The Court continued: In this case, E.C. not only obtained a discharge from probation but she satisfied the only remaining condition she could complete, when she paid off all of her fines. As a result, according to Probation Services, her case was “discharged.” Under those circumstances, we conclude that E.C. satisfactorily completed her probationary term for purposes of the statute. She completed the term in a sufficiently acceptable manner that her probation was not revoked, she paid all of the required fines, and she was discharged from probation. Consequently, under N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a)(2), she was entitled to apply for expungement five years after she paid off the fines, and she may obtain expungement if she persuades the trial court that expungement is in the public interest. Although it is not binding on us, we note that the Supreme Court of Hawaii engaged in similar reasoning, in construing that state’s expungement statute. State v. Pali, 300 P.3d 1022, 1028-32 (Haw. 2013).
Because the trial court viewed E.C. as barred from applying for expungement under the early pathway provision, it did not consider any of the other factors pertaining to her petition in order to determine whether expungement was in the public interest. Accordingly, we remand this matter to the trial court to complete its consideration of the petition. On remand, the trial court shall take into consideration the fact that, under the 2017 amendment to the expungement statute, E.C. would soon be entitled to apply for expungement under the ordinary pathway, because eight years have now elapsed since she finished paying her fines. See LoBasso, (an early pathway application may be stronger if made “closer” to the time-frame for an ordinary application). If the court grants E.C.’s petition to expunge the 2002 conviction, it must also expunge the charges that were dismissed as part of the 2002 plea bargain. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-14(c).
Due to the delay caused by this litigation, and because there is evidence that the conviction affects E.C.’s employment opportunities, we direct that the court issue a decision on E.C.’s petition within thirty days of the date of this opinion.
The Pali case cited by the Court was almost certainly cited by the defendant-appellant in her appeal brief. The LoBasso case provides support for any expungement application made after the date of initial eligibility, with each passing day theoretically adding strength to “public interest” / early pathway applications.