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Putting the Past Behind Them: New York will Allow People to Seal Their Criminal Records

A criminal conviction has repercussions that go far beyond a judge’s sentence. Not only can an individual lose his or her freedom for months or years, but a criminal record can hamper a person’s life long after the sentence has been served. A person with a criminal conviction can be denied employment, loans or licenses, even if the crime took place many years in the past.

A recent change in New York State law offers some help to those who have been convicted of non-violent crimes. Through Criminal Procedure Law Section 160.59, which goes into effect in October, New Yorkers can seal up to two criminal convictions provided that they meet certain criteria:

-The conviction must have taken place more than 10 years ago, or their prison sentence must have ended more than 10 years ago

-The person must not have had any criminal convictions in the intervening years

-The person must not be facing any pending criminal charges

The new section only applies to those convicted of specified misdemeanors or non-violent felonies. Anyone convicted of a violent felony, a sex felony or an A-level drug offense – such as criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first degree or operating as a major trafficker – is ineligible to have the  record sealed. All misdemeanors are considered, with the exceptions of sexual abuse and forcible touching.

This is good news for New Yorkers who have struggled to move on with their lives years after being convicted of a crime and serving time in jail or on probation. By sealing their criminal records, people can apply for jobs, bank loans and licenses without fear that their past will be used against them. Potential employers won’t see someone’s marijuana possession arrest from 2003 when doing a background check. Mortgage lenders won’t note a petit larceny conviction from 1999.

It should be noted that sealing a criminal record does not make the conviction disappear. Convictions continue to remain visible to state and federal law enforcement agencies. However, private interests such as employers or banks will not have access to the information, eliminating a substantial obstacle for people looking for a fresh start in life.

The process is not as simple as putting in a request. People wishing to seal their criminal records must submit an application to the sentencing judge in their particular case. The District Attorney’s office in the jurisdiction has an opportunity to oppose the request. If it is opposed, the sentencing judge will hold a hearing to determine whether the record will be sealed based on a number of criteria, including, among others, the charge being considered for sealing, the person’s character, statements from the victim(s), and the impact sealing the conviction will have on the person and public safety.

People seeking to seal their criminal records should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Though the law is new, an attorney will be able to assist someone filling out the paperwork to request the sealing of a record, as well as develop defense strategies should the District Attorney decide to oppose the petition.

The new law presents New Yorkers with a wonderful opportunity for a fresh start, and anyone eligible should seek the help of counsel to take advantage of this.

Peter J. Pullano, Esq. is Managing Partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Rochester, N.Y. office. Mr. Pullano has more than 30 years of experience in criminal law and has been recognized regionally for his work, including the 2016 Criminal Justice Act Award from the United States District Court for the Western District of New York.

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