In this matter, we address whether it was error to grant C.P.M.'s petition for expungement under the "crime spree" doctrine set forth in the 2018 amendment to N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a). C.P.M. filed a petition seeking to expunge several offenses from his criminal record, including: (1) an April 10, 2005 conviction for third-degree possession of CDS, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1); and (2) two June 22, 2005 convictions for fourth-degree burglary, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2, and fourth-degree criminal mischief, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3(a)(1).
Despite the requirement under N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a) that a court could only grant an expungement to an applicant who had not been "convicted of any prior or subsequent crime," petitions were periodically granted under a "single spree" or "crime spree" doctrine. In 2015, the Supreme Court definitively rejected the crime spree doctrine, holding that the Legislature clearly intended to "permit expungement of a single conviction arising from multiple offenses only if those offenses occurred as part of a single, uninterrupted criminal event." In re Expungement Petition of J.S., 223 N.J. 54, 73 (2015).
On October 1, 2018, N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a) was amended to permit the expungement of multiple crimes or offenses that "were interdependent or closely related in circumstances and were committed as part of a sequence of events that took place within a comparatively short period. . . ." The Legislature explained that the addition of the "interdependent or closely related in circumstances" and "within a comparatively short period of time" language was intended to allow expungement of "a so-called 'crime spree.'" S. Judiciary Comm. Statement to S. 3307 1 (L. 2017, c. 244) (emphasis added).
During the hearing on his petition, C.P.M. contended he was eligible for expungement under the crime spree exception in the newly amended statute. He argued that because he was under the influence of drugs during the several-month period in which the offenses occurred, his April and June 2005 convictions were sufficiently related. C.P.M. asserted that the trial court's analysis should include the motivations behind why a defendant committed the crimes.
The court granted the expungement petition under the crime spree exception in N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a). In relying on C.P.M.'s certifications, the judge concluded that C.P.M.'s drug use during the time period of the offenses was the "nexus" permitting a determination that the two incidents were closely related in circumstances.
This court reverses, finding the plain language of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a) bars the expungement of C.P.M.'s convictions as the offenses were not interdependent or closely related in circumstances. The offenses at issue – drug possession, burglary, and criminal mischief – do not share common elements. The crimes also are not similar in nature. These offenses were not committed as part of some larger criminal scheme; each offense was a distinct crime perpetrated under entirely different and unrelated circumstances.
A defendant's self-serving declaration of his or her motivation behind crimes fifteen years after their occurrence is not a cognizable consideration within the meaning of the statute. We are satisfied the Legislature did not intend the result compelled by the trial court – that any person addicted to drugs could be eligible for an expungement of any crime the person alleged was committed while he or she was under the influence of an illegal substance.