Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that a provision in the state’s landmark Raise the Age law—allowing individuals who have remained crime-free for 10 years to request that certain New York State convictions be sealed—took effect on Oct. 7. The change is a result of Governor Cuomo’s ongoing efforts to eliminate unnecessary barriers to opportunity and employment that formally incarcerated individuals face and to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice system.
“Law-abiding New Yorkers should not be forever branded with the stigma of a non-violent criminal conviction when they have turned their lives around,” Governor Cuomo said. “This provision of the landmark Raise the Age law will help eligible people of all ages turn the page and increase public safety by helping to end the vicious cycle of recidivism once and for all.”
The new provision allows eligible individuals to petition the court to seal up to two misdemeanor convictions; one misdemeanor and one felony conviction; or one felony conviction. To be eligible, an individual must have no convictions on their record for at least 10 years and have no charges pending. Individuals who were incarcerated may not apply until a decade following their release date. Excluded from sealing are convictions for sex crimes or any offense requiring registration as a sex offender; child pornography; murder, manslaughter and other homicide charges; certain conspiracy charges; and any crime defined by law as a Class A or violent felony.
The seal applies to all public court records and those maintained by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. The repository for New York’s criminal history records; law enforcement records are excluded. Once sealed, convictions can only be provided under certain circumstances, including to state or federal law enforcement acting within the scope of their duties including for hiring purposes; and pistol permit licensing officials. Individuals and their attorneys also will have access to the information. Additional information is available here.
Seymour W. James Jr., attorney-in-chief of The Legal Aid Society said, “Employers from all corners of New York City unfortunately deny our clients and others employment because of nonviolent convictions more than a decade old. This law will help prevent these situations from happening by affording thousands of New Yorkers the opportunity to finally have these records sealed. The Legal Aid Society lauds the Governor for signing this legislation and we look forward to working with our clients and others on correcting these injustices.”
Michael C. Green, executive deputy commissioner of the state division of Criminal Justice Services said, “This provision meets two important goals: It allows an eligible individual who has stayed on the right side of the law for at least 10 years the chance to remove his or her convictions from the public eye, while at the same time ensures that law enforcement professionals, certain licensing officials and others can access the sealed information when it is relevant to informing any decisions they must make involving that individual.”
Jennifer March, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children said, “We are so pleased that this weekend marks the beginning of the effective dates for the Raise the Age legislation. The new sealing provision will be a game changer for many New Yorkers who have turned their lives around and will no longer be burdened by the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction that is over a decade old. We look forward to spreading the word and implementing the new sealing provisions as we continue to work with our partners in and out of government to ensure the effective implementation of the whole Raise the Age law.”
Naomi Post, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, said, “There are so many people impacted by the justice system who have turned their lives around and deserve a second chance—many of whom are still being held back by a criminal conviction for crimes committed when they were teenagers. The sealing provision provides that chance for those who meet its criteria by eliminating barriers to opportunities such as housing, jobs, higher education and more.”
Laurie Parise, executive director of Youth Represent said, “Allowing people to leave the stigma of a criminal record behind is among the most powerful ways we can promote successful reentry and opportunity, especially for young people. The sealing law that goes into effect today as part of Raise the Age is an important step and we look forward to helping our clients get their records sealed.”
Oneida County District Attorney Scott D. McNamara, president of the District Attorneys’ Association of the State of New York said, “In my experience as a prosecutor, I have seen many cases involving individuals who made one wrong choice resulting in a minor conviction that has limited their opportunities for the rest of their live. This provision provides those who have a demonstrated track record of remaining crime-free the ability to move forward and be competitive in the job market. I applaud Governor Cuomo for his leadership on this issue and this is yet another example of prosecutors joining together with the Legislator and the Governor to improve our criminal justice system.”
Cattaraugus County Public Defender Mark S. Williams, president of the Chief Defenders Association of New York said, “This is an important milestone in New York State. Indigent defendants across the state are looking forward to being able to get a new start and to be able to look forward and not have to be stymied by a past mistake. On behalf of the entire defender community, we are grateful to the Governor and the Legislature for this giant step forward. Many of us have already been speaking to our clients and we are ready to assist where we can in helping them seal their past and move forward.”
Paul N. Samuels, president and director of the Legal Action Center said, “New York’s new sealing law opens critical opportunities for those whose convictions occurred long ago to have their records sealed, thereby increasing their opportunities to obtain employment, housing and other necessities of life that their criminal records have made it difficult to obtain. This law is the product of enormous leadership from the Governor and bipartisan support from the Senate and Assembly and represents great progress toward reducing the many harmful collateral consequences of conviction.”
Judy Whiting, general counsel of The Community Service Society said, “The Community Service Society congratulates Governor Cuomo and the New York State legislature on this historic sealing law. Stale criminal records predict nothing, but the stigma they create can last a lifetime and prevent individuals from obtaining good jobs, a decent place to live, and higher education. For years, individuals carrying the burden of a long-past criminal conviction – including our Next Door Project clients – have asked New York for the ability to have this record sealed to the public. By doing so, this law will give individuals across the state the opportunity to move ahead with their lives, support their families and contribute to the state’s economy.”
Individuals who believe they may be eligible for sealing under this law can visit www.nycourts.gov/forms for the forms and instructions needed to apply for sealing. Upon receiving a sealing application, the sentencing court must notify the appropriate district attorney’s office to see if there is an objection. If an objection is raised, the court must conduct a hearing to determine whether to seal the conviction or convictions.
New York State will raise the age of criminal responsibility in the state from 16 to 18 over the next two years. Juvenile jurisdiction for individuals who are 16 years old takes effect Oct. 1, 2018, and on Oct. 1, 2019 for 17-year-olds. The Raise the Age law and the sealing provision build upon Governor Cuomo’s efforts to improve the state’s criminal justice system and reduce barriers faced by people with criminal convictions.