On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. M-2010-126; Passaic County, Docket No. Exp. 7-10; Hudson County, Docket No. Exp. 1-10; Ocean County; and Middlesex County, Docket No. M-021-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff and Fuentes.
Petitioner David Hohsfield filed five separate petitions to expunge the records of his arrests that did not result in convictions, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:52-6, in each of the following counties: Middlesex, Ocean, Passaic, Hudson, and Monmouth. All of the county prosecutors involved opposed petitioner's application for expungement relief based on petitioner's extensive criminal history, which included convictions for endangering the welfare of a child and sexual assault, as well as a number of other open criminal charges.
Citing, inter alia, N.J.S.A. 2C:52-13,*fn1 Law Division Judges from the vicinages of Middlesex, Passaic, Hudson, and Monmouth each entered orders dismissing petitioner's requests for relief "without prejudice." The Ocean County Superior Court denied the petition outright, without reservation or qualification. Petitioner appealed. We granted petitioner's motion "to consolidate the orders from different venues in one appeal . . . [and] permitted [him] to file one consolidated brief addressing the orders from all counties." We affirm.
On June 16, 2010, petitioner filed a pro se petition for expungement in the Superior Court of the Ocean County vicinage. Petitioner, then fifty-four years old, sought to expunge the records of two arrests. The first occurred in November 2007, when he was charged with possession of a controlled, dangerous substance in the Township of Manchester, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a). According to petitioner, the Ocean County Superior Court dismissed this charge on February 21, 2008, after he successfully completed some form of deferred disposition program. The second arrest occurred in Toms River on January 9, 2008; petitioner was charged and indicted (08-04-00516-I) on one count of contempt under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9. Petitioner averred that the Ocean County Superior Court dismissed this indictment on August 11, 2009.
As required by N.J.S.A. 2C:52-10, the court directed petitioner to serve a copy of the petition for expunction and supporting documentation to the Attorney General, the State Police, and other law enforcement agencies and correctional institutions. This prompted a swift response from the Attorney General's Office, the Ocean County Prosecutor, and the State Police, all of whom objected to petitioner's requested relief. The Attorney General emphasized petitioner's criminal history, which dates back to 1975 and contains twelve indictable convictions, some of which require petitioner to register as a convicted sexual offender, nine disorderly person convictions, and six "open and pending" criminal charges.
The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office asked the court to dismiss the petition because petitioner failed to provide the information required by N.J.S.A. 2C:52-7. Relying on N.J.S.A. 2C:52-32, the prosecutor also argued that petitioner was ineligible per se to receive the relief of expungement because petitioner had not "led a life of rectitude [or] dissociated himself with unlawful activity." On December 10, 2010, the Ocean County Superior Court Judge assigned to the case issued an order denying the petition.
As this opinion noted earlier, petitioner filed similar petitions for expungement in the counties of Middlesex, Passaic, Hudson, and Monmouth. The prosecutor's office in each of these counties raised objections similar to those made by the Attorney General and the Ocean County Prosecutor. More specifically, the Passaic County Prosecutor emphasized that petitioner's most recent conviction was for endangering the welfare of a child in the third degree. For this charge, petitioner received a five year sentence on December 18, 2009 to be served in state prison. The Superior Court Judge sitting in Passaic County denied the petition "for the reasons outlined in the [Prosecutor's objection] letter."
On appeal, petitioner argues that the Law Division erred in denying his expungement petition because "[t]he legislature clearly intended that persons that have been acquitted, found not guilty, or have had their conviction dismissed through some form of post conviction procedure, indeed have the right to expungement despite a history of criminal activity." We disagree.
The Legislature clearly and expressly stated the public policy underpinning expungement when it directed courts to construe the statute "with the primary objective of providing relief to the one-time offender who has led a life of rectitude and disassociated himself with unlawful activity" and warned against "creat[ing] a system whereby periodic violators of the law or those who associate themselves with criminal activity have a regular means of expunging their police and criminal records." N.J.S.A. 2C:52-32 (emphasis added). Our Supreme Court's most recent review of the expungement statute reaffirmed that it "is designed to eliminate 'the collateral consequences imposed upon otherwise law-abiding citizens who have had a minor brush with the criminal justice system.'" In re Kollman, 210 N.J. 557, 568 (2012) (quoting In re T.P.D., 314 N.J. Super. 643, 648 (Law Div. 1997), aff'd o.b., 314 N.J. Super. 535 (App. Div. 1998)).
Petitioner's extensive criminal record renders him ineligible to receive the ...