New Jersey voters recently passed marijuana legalization by referendum, and the Governor, Legislature, and State agencies have all given rules and guidance on this since then. However, despite this, our Offices have experienced Judges who are reluctant to abide by these policies. Judges and prosecutors have requested that we plead to the minimum traffic offenses or equipment violations, and as such argue that as a result don’t have to grant the in court expedited expungement. Since the Governor signed the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act and marijuana decriminalization laws, followed shortly by the Division of Criminal Justice guidance on existing marijuana cases, many of our clients’ have seen their marijuana cases dropped and expunged. However, in one case, we had an issue with the Judge because after the marijuana matter was dismissed, the court would not grant an expedited in court expungement of the arrest. As stated in N.J.S.A 2C:52-6A(3), prior to this new guidance, it is clear that an in court expungement would not be granted.
However, this logic flows categorically against both the DCJ directive, and the spirit of the law and will of the voters. Two sections of the directive are applicable here. Section A states that “Effective immediately, prosecutors shall seek dismissals of any pending charges…. In any cases where a juvenile or adult’s conduct occurred on or before February 22, 2021” then goes on to say in Section B: “Also vacated will be any conviction, remaining sentence, ongoing supervision, or unpaid court-ordered financial assessment…as a result of the person’s conviction or adjudication of delinquency solely for the above listed charges” . It is clear from this directive that, at least, any marijuana offense occurring before February 22 should be vacated and dismissed. However, we recently defended a client where the Judge would not grant the in court expungement due to a traffic matter he was dealing with as well. Because the directive does not address this properly, it seems hypocritical, counterproductive, and confusing to simply ignore the directive, and not grant an in court expedited expungement of a marijuana offense and the underlying arrest simply because there is another, unrelated traffic offense as well.
Either the Directive needs to be clarified, or new guidance needs to be presented to the municipal courts making it clear that in court expedited expungements should be granted, even if one pleads guilty to a related traffic infraction or equipment violation. Our offices have written a letter to the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice to rectify this issue, and we will continue to fight for our clients in order to get the best possible result.