A new New Jersey law that cuts the amount of time convicts have to wait to have their criminal records cleared for some offenses went into effect Monday.
The new law cuts the waiting period from 10 years to five. Those convicted of murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery or other more serious crimes still cannot have their records expunged.
Gov. Chris Christie signed the legislation in January.
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Drug addicts who complete court-ordered rehabilitation programs and others can take advantage of the change, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Convicted drug dealers would only be eligible if they had 25 grams or less of marijuana or 5 grams or less of hashish.
Javier Galindo, a U.S. Army veteran, said he served several months behind bars after police in Cape May County found a gun in a minivan he was driving in 2005. He said that the gun was bought legally in Texas but that he didn't know it was illegal to carry in New Jersey.
The conviction stayed on his record for a decade and resurfaced when he tried to apply for jobs.
"It's just simply depressing. You think about it all the time," said Galindo, 32, of Millville. "People are always asking, 'What are you going to do about that?'"
Advocates said the new law gives low-level offenders — or drug users who acknowledge their wrongdoing — an opportunity to get a job and move on.
"Employment is a cornerstone of re-entry," said Akil Roper, chief counsel for re-entry at Legal Services of New Jersey, a group that helps low-income residents clear their records. "Without that, we tend to see folks going back to prison."
NBC10 recently took an in-depth look at heroin and opioid addiction in the Delaware Valley and beyond in Generation Addicted, an exclusive special report. Watch the half-hour Generation Addicted television special here and explore the digital presentation here.