Gov. Phil Murphy sent a bill back to lawmakers on Friday that would create a process for wiping certain marijuana offenses from criminal records, arguing the state needs an automatic, digital process for expunging those types of convictions.
In his Friday veto statement, Murphy said Senate Bill 3205 did not do enough to revamp and fix the state’s beleaguered and overburdened criminal records expungement system.
He proposed lawmakers create a task force to study how the state could create a digital system to automatically clean offenders’ records for those who stay out of trouble for 10 years – rather than require the person to actively apply for expungement – and the kinds of technology necessary for such a change to the system.
“I applaud the sponsors’ commitment to social justice, and their efforts to correct historic wrongs inflicted on our communities by a criminal justice system that has at times unfairly, and harshly punished individuals,” Murphy said Friday. “I believe, however, that this bill could go further in order to more fully and effectively achieve its intended goals.”
The governor proposed New Jersey take note from Pennsylvania’s “Clean Slate Law,” which automatically expunges certain criminal convictions older than a decade from the public eye, save for law enforcement.
While this automatic expungement system is hashed out, Murphy proposed the creation of a system for petitioning the court for a clean slate expungement.
S3205 was part of a trio of cannabis bills that Murphy promised to enact during his term. It would allow for expungement for possession between 2 ounces and 5 pounds. The measure would have also created a “virtual expungement,” so that a conviction could not be used as grounds to deny benefits such as employment, housing and professional licensure.
Murphy agreed in his veto statement that S3205 needed to clean records of marijuana possession, but proposed the courts more quickly seal the records of low-level possession and distribution, and that those charges could not be factored into sentencing for other criminal convictions.
Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-31st District, S3205’s main sponsor, condemned the governor’s move, saying his proposals would weaken the expungement legislation.
“The proposed changes would significantly lessen the number of individuals who would be eligible for expungement,” she said in a Friday statement. “If expungement is a good step toward responsible citizenship, then we should be broadening the opportunity for people to expunge their records and to rejoin the workforce.”
Murphy and legislative leadership tried and failed this spring to get lawmaker’s approval of a bill legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana. But they have agreed to give the effort one more go this year, before pushing it to a ballot question before voters in the 2020 presidential election.