NY state will soon allow 'thousands' with past crime convictions to seal records
ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York attorney Rick Collins said he understands why advocates might be hailing the state's new law raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18.
But he said a major change to the criminal justice system has largely flown under the radar. At the same time lawmakers raised the age, they gave people with criminal convictions, regardless of their age, a chance to seal their records from public view.
"I think it's a bigger deal," Collins said. "The reality is this change will have broader effects upon society because there are tens of thousands of New Yorkers of all ages who will be helped by this change in the law."
This change in the law allows people who have not been arrested or convicted of a crime in 10 years to seal up to two past convictions. Collins, who worked with legislators on this issue as a member of the New York State Bar Association, said the change will help those with records get jobs, qualify for loans or move forward in life without the embarrassment of a criminal conviction.
"Or even just from a social stigma standpoint, from a psychological standpoint, people want to feel that they've changed," Collins said.
The records would be invisible in background checks, to private investigators and for public records searches, for example. Law enforcement would still have access (except for "background checks"?).
The number of New Yorkers who would be eligible is unclear, though Collins and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn), who was a major advocate for the change in the Assembly, said easily tens of thousands of people could apply.
Here's how it will work when the law takes effect in mid-October:
- Those with past convictions who want to have their records sealed will fill out an application in the jurisdiction they were convicted in. (The application hasn't been created yet.)
- Collins said the application and sealing process might be complex enough to require an attorney's help.
- The district attorney's office will have a chance to weigh in on the application, and so will the victim of the crime, if one exists.
- A judge will have the final say as to whether the records are sealed.
- Those who are convicted of violent crimes, sex offenses, terrorism, dealing large amounts of drugs or some other serious crimes will not be eligible.
- A person can have two misdemeanor records sealed but only one felony record sealed.
- If a person is sentenced to prison, the 10-year waiting period begins when they are released.
The change to the state law was included in state budget passed earlier this month.
Lentol said the momentum around raising the age was a reason that this provision was finally included and passed in the budget. The 35-year legislator said there's been versions of the legislation for years.
Debate around raising the age also brought up the fact that many people, not just teenagers, are still facing repercussions of decades-old convictions for youthful crimes, Lentol said.
will affect a lot of people who were able to keep their lives on the
right track and as a result of that will be able to get their records
sealed now," Lentol said.