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In re Expungement of C.P.M.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 6, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE EXPUNGEMENT OF C.P.M.

          Argued October 22, 2019

          On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. XP-18-0686.

          Nicole Lynn Campellone, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for appellant State of New Jersey (Damon G. Tyner, Atlantic County Prosecutor, attorney; Nicole Lynn Campellone, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Robert W. Ruggieri argued the cause for respondent C.P.M. (Katherine O'Brien Law, attorneys; Robert W. Ruggieri, of counsel and on the brief; Katherine North O'Brien, on the brief).

          Before Judges Hoffman, Currier and Firko.

          OPINION

          CURRIER, J.A.D.

          In this matter, we address whether it was error to grant C.P.M.'s[1] petition for expungement under the "crime spree" doctrine set forth in the 2018 amendment to N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a). Because we conclude that C.P.M.'s convictions were not "closely related in circumstances," and, therefore, are not eligible for expungement, we reverse.

         In October 2018, C.P.M. filed a petition seeking to expunge three offenses from his criminal record: (1) a March 27, 2000 possession of controlled dangerous substance (CDS) charge, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4), which resulted in dismissal by conditional discharge; (2) an April 10, 2005 conviction for third-degree possession of CDS, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1); and (3) two June 22, 2005 convictions for fourth-degree burglary, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2, and fourth-degree criminal mischief, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3(a)(1).[2]

         At the time of C.P.M.'s sentencing in 2006, N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a) only permitted an individual to expunge one crime. The statute provided:

In all cases, except as herein provided, wherein a person has been convicted of a crime under the laws of this State and who has not been convicted of any prior or subsequent crime, whether within this State or any other jurisdiction, and has not been adjudged a disorderly person or petty disorderly person on more than two occasions may, after the expiration of a period of 10 years from the date of his conviction, . . . present a duly verified petition . . . to the Superior Court in the county in which the conviction was entered praying that such conviction and all records and information pertaining thereto be expunged.

[N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a) (2006) (emphasis added).]

         Despite the requirement that a court could only grant an expungement to an applicant who had not been "convicted of any prior or subsequent crime," petitions were periodically granted under a "single spree" or "crime spree" doctrine. This doctrine, first enunciated in In re Fontana, 146 N.J.Super. 264, 267 (App. Div. 1976), was later rejected in In re Ross, 400 N.J.Super. 117, 122 (App. Div. 2008).

         In 2015, the Supreme Court definitively rejected the crime spree doctrine, holding that the Legislature clearly intended to "permit expungement of a single conviction arising from multiple offenses only if those offenses occurred as part of a single, uninterrupted criminal event." In re Expungement Petition of J.S., 223 N.J. 54, 73 (2015). The Court noted that, throughout its various iterations, N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2 consistently "limit[ed] expungement to offenders who have committed no more than an isolated infraction in an otherwise law-abiding life." Id. at 66.

         The Court continued, stating:

[t]he statute's import is clear: no matter how many offenses are resolved by one conviction, expungement is available only for a single "crime" and is unavailable if another "crime" took place before or after the offense to be expunged.
. . . .
In short, notwithstanding its substantial expansion of opportunities for expungement in other respects in its 1979 and 2010 amendments, the Legislature evidently sought a stricter limit on the expungement of multiple offenses when it amended N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2 to add the term ''prior or subsequent crime.'' . . . The Legislature limited expungement to a single ''crime.'' . . . A single crime does not necessarily result in a single offense, given that multiple charges may arise from one crime. Rather, it involves a single, uninterrupted criminal event or incident. The Legislature clearly intended to bar expungement when the offender has committed a second crime at an earlier or later time, whether or not those crimes are resolved in the same judgment of conviction.

[Id. at 73-77 (citations omitted).]

         On October 1, 2018, N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a) was amended to allow individuals to expunge more than one indictable offense under certain circumstances. The statute provides:

In all cases, except as herein provided, a person may present an expungement application to the Superior Court pursuant to this section ...

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