A bundle of changes to New Jersey’s expungement system was approved Thursday by lawmakers, enabling more people to become eligible more quickly to erase more offenses from their criminal records.

People would have to wait six years to apply to expunge their criminal records, rather than 10. Juvenile records could be erased after three years, not five. People could erase four offenses, not three, and convictions for selling an ounce of marijuana or less would begin to qualify.

State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, called the bills “a great step forward.”

“We want to help as many people as possible be in the position that they can seek a normal life. That they can get a job. That they can have dignity and respect. And this bill helps move it forward,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham says one of the biggest changes will be allowing people to delete four offenses or multiple offenses that occurred within a short timeframe from their records, rather than three.

“It’s very easy to accumulate, once you get into that world,” Cunningham said. “But most of them have not been involved in any kind of criminal activity in a long, long time.”

The issue was among Gov. Chris Christie’s final legislative priorities before leaving office Jan. 16. Christie had worked on the legislation with Cunningham, the bills’ chief sponsor.

“I think it’s another important step in our criminal justice reform program that has been judged by almost every objective observer as being groundbreaking for the country,” Christie said.

The criminal justice reforms including the virtual elimination of cash bail, among other things.

It’s not yet clear when Christie will sign the bills, but he’s in office until Jan. 16.

The bills would bar employers from inquiring whether initial job applicants have an expunged criminal record. That proposal, which would take effect immediately upon becoming law, passed with the narrowest margin, 42-17 in the Assembly, where bills need 41 votes to pass.

One issue that wasn’t altered, after being the subject of intense debate when the bill was considered in committee, is the eligibility of people for expungement before they finish paying off fines or restitution.

“If you decide you’re not going to pay the victim the restitution that you agreed to pay as part of your plea bargain, the restitution that the court ordered and the restitution that the victim relied on, then you shouldn’t be given this benefit,” said Richard Pompelio, director of the New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center.

Currently around 8,400 expungements are filed annually. That will increase, though there aren’t estimates for how many more will apply. However, the judiciary anticipates “a substantial annual expenditure increase” to keep up with the growing caseload.

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