Key Legal Developments


COVID-19: Compilation of NJ Court Orders, Directives & Notices

02/23/21: Marijuana Legalization Laws Passed with Youth Protections Against Law Enforcement Abuses and Prosecution

On Monday, February 22, Governor Murphy finally signed into law a set of bills that legalize possession and use of marijuana for those 21 and older, stops arrests for those legally possessing up to six ounces, and sets civil penalties for those under 21 who possess or use the drug.

Although voters approved a ballot measure to legalize possession and use of marijuana for those 21 and older in November, for months, the legislature could not come to a resolution on several issues, including taxation and licensing. The bill was further held up after the governor’s office pressed for provisions to address underage possession. Ultimately, a “clean-up” bill to address those issues was passed in voting sessions on February 22.

Advocates had long warned that legalization but allowing continued enforcement of drug laws against young people would further harm communities already damaged by decades of racism through a failed drug war, aggressive policing and over-incarceration. While drug usage rates are roughly consistent across racial groups, Blacks are three times more likely to be arrested.

Now, those under 21 who are found to possess or use marijuana will be subject to limited penalties. Those penalties will allow law enforcement officers to issue written warnings, and with subsequent warnings, to notify the parents of those under 18, and to provide community and substance abuse resources. Any records of written warning will be confidential and destroyed or deleted when the individual turns 21.

The bill also places further limitations on enforcement. Police may not initiate a stop without reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause, initiate a search of an individual unable to give consent due to age, or detain a person for longer than required to issue a warning or write-up. Officers who violate these protections face criminal penalties depending on the nature of the deprivation of individual civil rights.

Law enforcement officers engaged with youth for the purposes of issuing written warnings would be required to record interactions using body-worn cameras. Officers would also be subject to training on interactions with underage users, including recognition of and methods to “address and avoid racial disparities and implicit bias” and interacting with vulnerable juvenile populations.

The new law stops arrests going forward, but those who have been subject to recent charges—which did not stop while the bills were considered by the legislature and prior to passage—do have some recourse. Earlier this year provisions were enacted downgrading past marijuana offenses for purposes of expungement, and providing for expedited expungement and sealing of marijuana-related offenses soon after conviction.

01/19/21: State v. E.J.H. - In this published decision, the App Div panel held that where the defendant agreed to supervised parenting-time terms that included video cameras in the location of the visits, so that the plaintiff could observe the parenting-time. While the child was visiting defendant, he turned to the camera, made comments directed at the plaintiff followed by a lewd hand gesture. The criminal trial court held that defendant was entitled to first amendment freedom of speech in his own home, and that since he did not text or email her directly, the statements and hand gesture were not a prohibited communication (or at least he was not on notice that it was prohibited contact). The App Div, noting that defendant consented to the camera requirement in the FRO, and analogized the statements and hand gesture specifically directed at the protected party as a communication much like a video sent as an attachment to an email or text. That App Div, in holding that this was prohibited communication, pointed out that the defendant did this with knowledge that the cameras were on and working and that presumptively the protected party would receive the message.

01/07/21: New Jersey Launches Electronic Filing System for Expungements

The New Jersey Courts recently announced the statewide launch of its eCourts Expungement System developed in accordance with recent amendments in the law to help increase efficiency of the expungement process. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-10.1. The new system allows attorneys and pro se petitioners to create and file petitions for traditional, clean slate, and cannabis-related expungements, and introduces a number of efficiencies including accessibility of state records databases, document creation for expungement petitions, and automatic service of applications on numerous parties.

Attorneys can access the system through eCourts, and pro se users can create an account through the New Jersey Court’s Self-Help Center (“Submit Expungement Petition Online” under “COVID-19 Self-Help Resources”).

Users can enter a municipal or superior court case number, and the expungement system will search and pull the petitioner’s court records from criminal, municipal and family court databases. Petitioners will have the ability to enter additional information not captured by the expungement system database; review and upload additional or supportive documents; and select or deselect which cases should be included on the proposed final order.

Once the petition is submitted and verified by the petitioner, the system will automatically create an order for hearing and serve the necessary parties with the documentation. It will also serve those parties if a final order of expungement is entered, and will provide a copy of the order to the petitioner.

The expungement system does not provide eligibility advice or inform users as to whether any particular cases or any application is eligible for expungement. Users should consult with attorneys or advocates as to their eligibility prior to using the system or use other eligibility resources such as LSNJ’s CYRO eligibility interview. After filing, the prosecutor’s office will continue to be responsible for review of the petitioner’s application and to confirm eligibility and will object if it determines that an application is ineligible for expungement.

The Expungement System should make the expungement process easier for many who have access to computers and the internet. Previously, petitioners, even those who were filing through the JEDS system, were required to file several copies of their written or typed expungement applications and then serve copies on many other parties via certified mail, with return receipt requested, at a substantial cost. The court, however, will still accept paper expungement applications, important for those who may not have access to a computer or the internet.

User guides are available on the Court’s website. LSNJ’s eligibility tools and resources are available at LSNJLAW's Clearing Your Record Online.