It is a case that New Jersey criminal defense lawyers have watched closely because it attempts to answer an important question: Once a criminal record is expunged, how far should the law go to promote keeping the record “hidden,” given individuals’ right to free speech.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that a former political aide, whose expunged drug crime conviction was splashed across an opponent's campaign flyers, cannot sue for defamation. In the Court's words, expungement records cannot be taken to mean a “wholesale rewriting of history.”
The case involves the political aide, identified only as GD, who was convicted of drug possession with intent to distribute in 1993. The criminal conviction was expunged in 2006. During a campaign, the Hudson County Democratic Organization distributed flyers that highlighted the aide’s drug crime conviction in an attack on his former boss, who was running for the state Senate in 2007.
GD sued for defamation, and Hudson County Democratic Organization moved for summary judgment, arguing that there were no grounds for a defamation claim because the information in the flyers was true, even if the conviction had been expunged. The Appellate Division had earlier dismissed the claim, finding that a defamation claim would not hold water. The Supreme Court has now upheld that ruling.
According to New Jersey Supreme Court Associate Justice Albin, who delivered the decision, an arrest and conviction can quickly become common knowledge within a community, and, therefore, people will not immediately forget about the person’s conviction, even if the record has been expunged.
This verdict shows that, although it is usually helpful to have your damaging criminal records expunged, there are some circumstances where it is less useful. It is important to consult with an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney to understand what those circumstances are.
The ruling also underscores how vital it is to hire a quality criminal attorney from the onset of any charges filed against you, so that you fully comprehend the serious, long-term consequences of pleading guilty or accepting any plea deal. If you would like to fight the charges against you, having a criminal attorney with trial experience is a must. Our firm has three attorneys certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as Criminal Trial Attorneys.