On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. 61025.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 27, 2012
Before Judges Axelrad and Haas.
Petitioner C.C. appeals the denial of his petition for expungement filed in the Law Division pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1 to -32. We affirm.
On October 15, 2003, petitioner entered a guilty plea in Camden County to a one-count accusation charging him with third-degree possession of over fifty grams of marijuana with intent to distribute. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(11). According to the presentence report, petitioner was pulled over after driving his car erratically. The police officer detected a "strong odor of raw and burnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle." During a subsequent search of the car, over 200 grams of marijuana were found, together with seven Ecstasy pills, ten Ritalin pills, a digital scale, a package of plastic sandwich bags, and $300 in cash.
On January 16, 2004, petitioner was sentenced to two years probation and his driver's license was suspended for six months. He was also required to pay mandatory fines and penalties. Petitioner completed his probation on, and paid all outstanding fines and penalties by, January 12, 2006.
On July 23, 2007, petitioner was charged in West Pikeland, Pennsylvania with one count of violating 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5503(a)(4), Disorderly Conduct. He subsequently pled guilty to this offense and, on September 19, 2007, he was assessed a $150 fine and $10 in court costs.
On October 10, 2010, petitioner filed a petition for expungement of his New Jersey conviction. The trial judge denied this petition in a written opinion and order issued on August 24, 2011. The judge found that, because petitioner had two convictions, he was not eligible to have his petition considered under the "early pathway" provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2a(2). In addition, the judge found that, because petitioner's New Jersey conviction involved a large amount of marijuana, together with other drugs and drug paraphernalia, he was not eligible for expungement as a "young drug offender" under N.J.S.A. 2C:52-5.
Petitioner appeals. He challenges the trial court's findings and urges that the liberal public policy of the "early pathway" amendments to the expungement statute warrants reversal. We disagree.
Expungement is a purely statutory remedy. It is intended to provide relief to "the one-time offender," not to "periodic violators of the law." N.J.S.A. 2C:52-32. For that reason, repetitive offenders are barred from relief under most circumstances.
Prior to 2010, a petitioner could not seek expungement of a conviction until at least ten years had passed since the date the sentence was completed. N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a). In 2010, however, the Legislature amended this statute to permit an "early pathway" to expungement in certain cases after five years, if expungement is in the public interest. In re Kollman, 210 N.J. 557, 570-71 (2012). N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a)(2) provides that a court may now grant expungement when at least five years has expired from the date of [his or her] conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration, whichever is later; the person has not been convicted of a crime, disorderly persons offense, or petty disorderly persons offense since the time of the conviction; and the court finds in its discretion that expungement is in the public interest, giving due consideration to the nature of the offense, and the applicant's character and conduct since conviction.
Thus, expungement under this "early pathway" provision "requires three things: the passage of five years; no additional convictions; and a finding that expungement is in the ...