Hate Crimes and Social Media


hanging effigies can be a hate crime

Hanging effigies photo by Keith Tyler

Earlier this month, eight wrestlers from Phillipsburg High School in New Jersey posted a picture that borders the line between schoolboy prank and hate crime. The issue is not that the teammates were merely displaying poor sportsmanship, but that the image they conjured very closely resembles images of lynching and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The decision to post the picture on Twitter – where the image could be publicly viewed and create nationwide contention- is what made a potentially private issue a public one.

The Controversial Photo

The picture is of seven of the eight boys- the eighth is taking the picture – wearing their team attire surrounding a hanging mannequin that is wearing a shirt from the opposing team. While rivalries run deep in most schools, lynching a member of the rival team – even figuratively – is hostile and threatening, rather than merely provocative. To make matters worse, two of the Philipsburg boys were wearing pointed hoodies, and the hanging mannequin was black. While the intention may not have been to promote racist sentiments, the message could certainly be perceived as such.

Definition of a Hate Crime

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) a hate crime is “an element of bias to traditional crimes” adding, “the mixture is toxic to our community.” According to the FBI website, a hate crime is the number one priority of their Civil Rights Program because “hate crime has a devastating impact on families and communities” because “groups that preach hatred and intolerance plant the seeds of terrorism here in our county.”

The FBI define a hate crime as the following:

“A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purpose of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Hate itself is not a crime – and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”[1]

The picture that the boys took could easily been seen to plant seeds of hatred, not only among their fellow classmates towards their rival team, but also of racism. Regardless of the intention of the photo, the message can clearly be interpreted as racist. Once an image – be it text or photo – is released into public domain, the image becomes subjective and can be misinterpreted. Fortunately for the ill-advised teens, their actions did not spark a wave of crime such as arson or vandalism, which would have constituted their actions as a hate crime.

The Punishment of the Participants of the Picture

Even if the picture resulted in a hate crime, the offense would not have been a Federal one. As it stands, the wrestlers were banned from their upcoming tournament, received a three-day suspension, and publicly apologized during a press conference. The young men are also facing official charges and have been instructed by their attorney to keep silent on the matter. The attorney assured the press that the picture was not intended to spur racist angst, arguing that the pointed hoodies and black mannequin were shear coincidence.

While official charges have yet to be made, one thing is certain – intention may not matter. The issue with posting images to social media, or the internet in general, is that private property – (the picture) – goes public becoming subject to public scrutiny and subject to subsequent consequences.

Clearing a Hate Crime Offense from Your Criminal Record

If the Philipsburg High wrestlers end up subject to a police investigation, they could face charges of hate crimes. A hate crime or bias crime, as previously mentioned, is not a federal crime and therefore falls to the state for judgment. New Jersey, like nearly every state, has laws prohibiting hate crimes.

Though the penalties for bias or hate crimes are not specifically articulated, there are “penalty enhancements statutes” in place that “increase the penalty for existing criminal offenses when a victim is targeted, based in whole or in part on the perception or beliefs of the actor, because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ethnicity of that person, owner or occupant of that property, regardless of whether or not the perpetrator’s belief was correct.”

If the group of wrestlers face charges, they will have a criminal record that will follow them around until they are able to have the offense expunged from their records. Unfortunately for these young men, by posting the tasteless picture online, they have cemented the thoughtless action into their history- what gets posted online, stays online. Overtime, their picture may get pushed back into the search engine boonies, but until then, the only way to remove the offense background checks for universities, employment, and housing is expungement.

New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Laws


New Jersey medical marijuana buds

Medical Marijuana Photo by Mark Eggrole

New Jersey is 1 of 20 states to legalize the use of medicinal marijuana. The particular laws regarding the use of medicinal marijuana varies from state to state. The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medicinal Marijuana Act that was passed by Governor Jon Corzine on January 18, 2010, legally allows patients who have been diagnosed with the following diseases to ingest up to 2 ounces of marijuana per month:

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Seizure and/or spasticity disorders (including epilepsy)
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Severe muscle spasms
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn’s disease)
  • Any terminal illness if a doctor has determined the patient will die within a year
  • Any medical condition that has been approved by the New Jersey Health Department

The law also states that there is no age limit for patients, but that a parent or guardian must signoff for minors. The Department of Health reserves the right to approve all unspecified terms and conditions.

In September of 2013, the legislation was amended to provide for the production and sale of cannabis-infused edibles and for multiple strains of marijuana per Senate Bill 2842.

How does Someone Become a Patient?

If you are a New Jersey resident and have been recommended by a New Jersey physician with whom you have a standing relationship, you should qualify as a patient. Once you have been issued an authorized prescription, the Department of Health will issue you an identification card with your picture, name, address, date-of-birth, and your primary caregiver- or in other words, the name of the physician that is writing the prescription for your medicinal marijuana. The ID card is proof that you are legally allowed to be in possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes and therefore cannot be prosecuted.

Who can Prescribe Marijuana for Medicinal Purposes?

A “primary caregiver” who has undergone a background check, is licensed to practice medicine and surgery, and who has a bona fide relationship with the patient can prescribe medicinal marijuana to a patient. The patient must be a resident of New Jersey for the physician to recommend a patient to them. Additionally, the primary caregiver must be able to retrieve the medicinal marijuana for the patient.

The caregiver is ineligible to prescribe medicinal marijuana if he or she has ever been convicted of a felony drug offense, or if the caregiver is already treating a qualifying patient. Caregivers may only prescribe medicinal marijuana to one patient at a time, must obtain a registry identification card from the Department of Health and Human Services, and must pay a $200.00 application fee.

Who can Sell Medicinal Marijuana?

New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana law clearly states that authorized patients cannot cultivate their own cannabis. Medicinal marijuana can only be grown at alternative treatment centers-which are centers that serve the sole purpose of producing and distributing medicinal marijuana- and costs between $20 and $200 to cover the cost of production.

Places that Patients are Prohibited from Smoking

While patients who smoke medicinal marijuana are not subject to being sequestered in their homes while ‘taking their medication,’ they are restricted from smoking in many public areas. As a general rule of thumb, it is illegal to smoke medicinal marijuana in any place that it is otherwise illegal to smoke cigarettes such as on forms of public transportation, in a private vehicle while in operation, on school grounds, correctional facilities, public parks or beaches, or recreational centers. If you receive a drug charge in New Jersey, you may be able to get the drug charge expunged from your record.

Driving Under the Influence of Medicinal Marijuana

New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Act articulates that it is illegal to smoke marijuana while operating a vehicle. It is also vital to remember that it is illegal to drive under the influence-which is not particular to alcohol, but can also pertain to prescriptive narcotics, including medicinal marijuana.

If a patient is pulled over for a moving violation* and law enforcement finds traces of a controlled substance in the patient’s system, presenting the prescription or ID card will not prevent the patient from receiving a DUI. The incident may also result in a criminal record, confiscation of the patient’s driver’s license, having to attend a drug treatment program (such as narcotics anonymous), and enduring the social stigma of having a criminal record for a drug conviction. If you have been charged with a DUI involving marijuana you can take a free test to see if you are eligible to have that record cleared from your background.

More great, informative articles can be found in our blog section

*A citation for a moving violation can be given to a person operating a vehicle in motion, including a car, motorcycle, bicycle, scooter, boat, or plane.

New Jersey Misdemeanor and Felony Expungements


If you have a criminal record in New Jersey, you may be eligible to have your offense expunged from your criminal record. It is important, however, to be able to distinguish not only what type of expungement is right for you, but also to be able to determine if you are eligible for an expungement and if you have met the mandatory requirements for your expungement, whether it be a misdemeanor or felony expungement.

New Jersey Misdemeanor Record Expungement

In New Jersey, if you were convicted of a misdemeanor, the requirements for an expungement are as follows:

  • You must satiate a 2-year waiting period after successfully completing probation, incarceration, and payment of all fines – whichever was completed last.
  • You cannot have pending charges against you.
  • You cannot be convicted of a felony or an indictable offense in any state.
  • You also cannot have 3 or more disorderly or petty disorderly violations.

New Jersey Felony Record Expungement

If you were convicted of a felony, or an indictable offense, the requirements for an expungement are the same as the requirements for expunging a misdemeanor with the exception of the following:

  • You must satiate the 10 year waiting period after successful completion of probation, incarceration, and payment of fines –whichever was completed last.
  • You cannot have have ever been granted dismissal of charges through pretrial intervention, with the exception of disorderly or petty disorderly offenses.
  • You cannot have already expunged a criminal offense.

If you have met all of the requirements for your respective offense and are eligible to have your felony or misdemeanor expunged, then you may petition to have your offense expunged with the courthouse that oversaw your original hearing. The court clerk of your respective courthouse will be able to supply you with information about your case that you will need to file your petition such as the date of your arrest, the name of your arresting agency, the date that your disposition was given, and your case identification number. It is important to keep in mind that the court clerk is legally prohibited from offering you legal advice about your case or from helping you to file out your petition. For any legal inquiries, view the New Jersey Courts website at

Read our New Jersey Law Blog for more information.

Applying for a Pardon in New Jersey


Not all cases are eligible for New Jersey expungement; however, there is another option that may be beneficial. Seeking a pardon in the state where your conviction occurred may the best solution to receive criminal record relief.

In order to apply for a pardon, there are certain requirements that may need to be met and certain application procedures that must be completed. This information can be found in great detail at

If you are applying for a pardon in New Jersey, below you will find the eligibility requirements and process for applying.

There are no formal requirements to be eligible for a pardon in New Jersey. You may apply even if you are still serving your sentence and being confined in a correctional facility.

To apply for a pardon in New Jersey:

  • Obtain a Pardon Application by:
    • Calling the Parole Board at 609-292-4257
    • Writing in a request to the Parole Board at:
      New Jersey State Parole Board
      Attn: Clemency Investigator
      P.O. Box 862
      Trenton, NJ 08625
  • Prepare a personal statement
  • Prepare two letters of recommendation
  • Notarize your completed pardon application
  • Submit your Pardon Application to the New Jersey State Parole Board

New Jersey Voting Rights


There are certain factors about your case that will determine if you are in possession of your right to vote. Below you will find a detailed description of these factors for voting rights in New Jersey.

In New Jersey, your voting rights are automatically restored once you have completed your sentence. Getting an expungement will also restore your voting rights.