The drug court program was established in New Jersey to provide an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent offenders who have substance abuse problems. Diversionary programs like drug courts are becoming more popular because they ease the pressure on corrections systems and have been shown to reduce recidivism rates. They also allow offenders to clear their records and become productive members of society while they receive treatment for their addiction issues.
Entering and completing the program
Before offenders are admitted to the drug court program, they meet with a substance abuse practitioner who evaluates their clinical eligibility and a prosecutor who evaluates their legal eligibility. Those who are admitted must meet regularly with a probation officer, submit to random drug tests, and receive treatment. The appropriate treatment option, which may be an inpatient, outpatient or detoxification program, is determined based on the offender’s clinical needs. Participants are also required to attend self-help sessions held by organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The program takes about two years to complete.
Individuals who complete the drug court program may be eligible to have their criminal records expunged. New Jersey’s expungement law was expanded in 2016 to cover all the drug and drug-related arrests and convictions of offenders who successfully complete the program and did not reoffend during the program. The expanded law does not allow more serious crimes like murder, arson and sexual assault to be expunged. In addition to widening the scope of the original expungement law, the law simplified the expungement process and eliminated the court fee that offenders previously had to pay.
Legal assistance with expungements
Expungements are not granted automatically in New Jersey. Criminal defense attorneys with experience in cases involving drug crimes may help individuals who have successfully completed the drug court program to determine whether or not they qualify for an expungement. If they do, attorneys could draft the necessary paperwork. Depending on the program graduation date, this paperwork could include a Drug Court Expungement Order that lists all of the offenses to be expunged or a Verified Petition for Expungement. When expungements are granted, attorneys may submit copies of the Drug Court Expungement Order to government agencies to ensure that the relevant records are removed.