NJ State Police Sued For Failing To Clear Expunged Records

By Carla Baranauckas | October 24, 2023, 9:28 PM EDT ·

The New Jersey State Police has failed to timely remove expunged criminal records from the background checks of tens of thousands of individuals, preventing them from getting jobs, housing and other opportunities, the state's Office of the Public Defender claims in a proposed class action.

The Monday suit seeks an injunction compelling State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick J. Callahan to clear the backlog of nearly 50,000 expungement orders, some of which have languished for more than a year. It also asks for a court order requiring future expungements be processed in a timely manner to avoid another backlog.

"Plaintiffs, and the class members they seek to represent, share a common grievance – that the NJSP's extreme delay in processing expungement orders deprives them of their right to a timely expungement and its resultant benefits," the complaint says.

New Jersey has been a leader in opening opportunities for people to expunge their criminal records, and the courts have ordered the records of thousands of offenders expunged, the Office of the Public Defender said in a news release.

After a judge grants an expungement, the state police are responsible for removing the offense from background checks.

"But the State Police's extreme delays in processing expungement orders and sealing individuals' criminal records is frustrating the law's goals of allowing reformed and rehabilitated New Jerseyans to be freed from the collateral consequences of their past lives," the news release said.  

The State Police received $15 million in taxpayer money in 2019 to support the swift processing of expungement orders, according to the release.

Between 2018 and 2023 "we have watched the New Jersey State Police go from taking about four months to comply with an order and delete the necessary data, to now taking almost two years to comply with orders," Meredith L. Schalick, director of the Expungement Law Project at Rutgers Law School, said in a statement. "This increased delay is unacceptable and inexplicable."

The delays can be costly for the individuals involved. A plaintiff, identified as A.A., had offenses expunged in December 2021 but is still waiting on its removal, the release says. In the nearly two years he has been waiting, his community barred him from volunteer positions, including coaching his son's youth sports teams.

Plaintiff B.B. lost a job opportunity at a casino because of a six-month delay in the processing of his expungement, and plaintiff C.C. has been waiting for an expungement order to be processed for more than a year and has been unable to obtain a massage therapy license, according to the release.

"Expungement can help remove barriers and provide important opportunities for people with past justice involvement to move their lives forward," Akil Roper, senior vice president of Legal Services of New Jersey, said in a statement. "The New Jersey State Police's failure to timely comply with expungement orders, however, stalls this relief for the thousands of petitioners whose expungement applications have been granted by the court, potentially resulting in lost employment, volunteer, educational and other opportunities. People who need their records expunged should not have to wait more years for the relief they are entitled to by law."

The Office of the Attorney General declined to comment Tuesday.

The Office of the Public Defender is represented by its own Michael Noveck, Alexander Geisel and Fletcher Duddy.

Counsel for the State Police was not immediately available Tuesday.

The case is A.A. et al. v. Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, in his official capacity as Superintendent of State Police, case number MER-L-002001-23, in the Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division, Mercer County.

--Editing by Drashti Mehta.

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