If you’ve been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in New York, then you have a permanent criminal record. Your criminal record is available to employers, government agencies, and even individuals. The criminal record accompanying a conviction can often be the most significant, impactful and long-lasting result of a criminal case. It can prevent you from obtaining employment, impact your eligibility for social services, and even affect fundamental rights such as the right to vote. For the longest time, there was essentially no remedy for the person convicted of a crime in the past who had completely turned their life around, but who nevertheless felt the harmful effects of their prior conviction.
Just this month, CPL 160.59 went into effect. This new statute, for the first time, allows for the sealing of prior criminal convictions on equitable bases, rather than procedural errors. What this means is that, for the first time, those convicted of crimes can petition the court in which they were convicted to seal the record of that conviction simply in the interest of justice and fairness. However, there are numerous restrictions and requirements that must be met, and the counsel of an experienced criminal attorney is essential.
Perhaps the most significant restriction is that you are limited to sealing two convictions, only one of which may be a felony. In addition, certain classes of offenses are not eligible for sealing, such as most sex offenses and violent felonies. You are also ineligible for sealing if you have a criminal case currently pending. Finally, sealing is only available after 10 years have passed from the date of sentence or the date of release from the latest period of incarceration, whichever is later. These are just a few examples of some of the restrictions that must be considered before making a motion for sealing under CPL 160.59.
If you are eligible, and make a motion to seal one or two prior convictions, the Court will consider many different factors in considering your application: (1) the amount of time that has elapsed since the last conviction; (2) the circumstances and seriousness of the crimes; (3) your character and efforts you have made toward rehabilitation; (4) any statements made by the victim(s) of the underlying offenses; and (5) how sealing will impact you and the public.
The enactment of this new statute recognizes what everyone already knows to be true – people deserve a second chance, and the 39 year-old father of three is not the same man as the 19 year-old kid who made a mistake twenty years ago. If you are eligible to have your criminal records sealed, contact an experienced criminal attorney to explore your options. Nobody should be haunted for the rest of their lives by isolated mistakes they made more than a decade ago.
This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense lawyer who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand sealing of criminal records in New York State.