Victims of Human Trafficking Can Clear Their Criminal Pasts in New Jersey
A criminal conviction can destroy a person’s life long after they’ve paid their debt to society. With a criminal record, an individual may find it difficult to secure a good job, apply for certain state licenses, get student loans or even get housing opportunities. A felony conviction can also have other long-term consequences, such as causing the survivor to lose the right to own or carry a firearm, lose their voting privileges, be barred from state licensing applications and be prohibited from serving on a jury.
For anyone convicted of a sex crime, the ramifications can be even worse because a sex offense conviction often carries a humiliating social stigma. Worse yet, with access to public records becoming easier and easier in the age of the Internet, a conviction for a sex offense could haunt a person for the rest of their life.
Many times, victims of human trafficking have prior convictions for prostitution and related offenses. How are they ever supposed to get their lives back on track when they have a sex crime conviction on their record? Without access to higher education or employment opportunities, these individuals may never be able to overcome their pasts and become valuable contributors to society.
NJ lawmakers recognized the need for a solution to this problem, so they passed a law, A3352, the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act, that gives victims of human trafficking the opportunity to wipe their criminal records clean and vacate their convictions. A total of 37 states, including New Jersey, passed similar anti-trafficking laws in 2013.
Although New Jersey law already allowed certain criminal offenses to be expunged from a person’s record, there are many restrictions on expungement laws. For example, you can only get a single criminal conviction expunged from your criminal record. The NJ anti-trafficking law serves an important purpose by allowing victims of human trafficking to clear their records of multiple past indiscretions. This is important because, at the time of the bill’s passage, one of the sponsors observed that the victims of human trafficking are “often children and vulnerable women who are too afraid and dependent on traffickers to break their silence.”
One of the requirements of the New Jersey law is that the individual seeking removal of a criminal conviction from their record can only do so for non-violent crimes committed while they were victims of human trafficking. The reality is that a lot of human trafficking victims are forced to commit crimes in order to support the individuals who are abusing them. One of the law’s sponsors noted that human trafficking victims are often “exploited for years and coerced into prostitution, labor and drug activity.”
Additionally, an Atlantic County assistant prosecutor recently acknowledged this reality when he observed that NJ law represents a “paradigm shift” in how prostitutes are perceived, so that they “are seen not just as people committing crimes, but more fundamentally, victims of vicious psychological controlling.”
Once the criminal conviction is erased from the survivor’s record, it will be as if the offense never happened. On job applications, housing applications or in just about any other situation in the future, the individual will legally be able to say “no” when asked if they have ever been convicted of a crime.
Although the bill was passed by the New Jersey Legislature in 2013, the first person to avail themselves of the state law did not do so until June 2015. Now the hope is that more people will feel empowered to use the law to clear their criminal records and protect their futures.
The legal team at Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan, LLC specializes in helping clients fight criminal charges for prostitution and solicitation so that they can move on with their lives. Call us today for a free consultation about your case.