On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
The issue in this appeal is whether N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2b bars a private citizen from the expungement process when the citizen aids and abets a public official in the commission of a crime involving or touching that public official's office.
P.A.F. was the president of Kit Enterprises, a waste disposal site. As President, P.A.F. committed crimes directly related to the operation of the business, including the filing of false reports and illegal dumping. In addition, P.A.F. would solicit and receive information from a Union County sheriff's officer on license plates belonging to vehicles parked in the vicinity of Kit Enterprises, to determine whether competitors or law enforcement agencies were monitoring the business. Consequently, P.A.F. was also charged with "aiding and abetting official misconduct" in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2, a second degree crime. Following a guilty plea on January 4, 1984, P.A.F. was convicted and sentenced.
On June 10, 2000, more than ten years after P.A.F. completed his sentence, including parole, P.A.F. filed a verified petition seeking expungement of his record of conviction. Initially, the motion judge granted the expungement. Upon reconsideration, the judge reversed himself, holding that an accomplice is subject to the same punishment as a principal and therefore is also barred from the benefits of the expungement process under the third paragraph of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2b. The Appellate Division affirmed in an unpublished per curiam decision.
The Supreme Court granted P.A.F.'s petition for certification.
HELD: The expungement bar under the third paragraph of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2b does not extend to private citizens who aid and abet public office holders in the commission of crimes involving or touching their offices.
1. New Jersey's Code of Criminal Justice provides for the expungement of arrest and criminal records subject to a number of notable exceptions. The general rule favors expungement of a first-time criminal conviction. In keeping with standard canons of statutory construction, however, it is not the general rule, but rather the exceptions that are to be construed narrowly. The third paragraph of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2b provides that a public official who commits a crime involving or touching his office is not eligible for expungement of the record of his conviction. The third paragraph is far from a model of clarity, however, and lends itself to varying interpretations. Absent a clear statutory expression, we are not inclined to expand the class of persons who are ineligible for an expungement. The more reasonable interpretation of the third paragraph of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2b is that the expungement bar does not extend to private citizens who aid and abet public office holders in the commission of crimes involving or touching their offices. (Pp. 4-9)
2. P.A.F. should not have been denied an expungement of his criminal record because he held no public office when he was convicted of aiding and abetting misconduct in office. (Pp. 9-10)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Albin, J.
The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED to the Law Division for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES COLEMAN, LONG, VERNIERO, LaVECCHIA, and ZAZZALI join in Justice ALBIN's opinion.
A public official who commits a crime involving or touching his office is not eligible for expungement of the record of his conviction by the express language of the third paragraph of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2b. We are called on to determine whether that same provision bars a private citizen, who aids and abets the public official in the commission of the crime, from the benefits of the expungement process. We hold that this provision ...