If you still need help after reading these FAQs, see the “Need More Help?” section at the end of this page.

Criminal Justice

You can order a copy of your RAP sheet directly from New York State or you can call Legal Action Center to schedule an appointment for a RAP sheet workshop.  Rap sheet workshops are held on Wednesdays and are about 90 minutes long. You need an appointment to attend.  You will get your rap sheet about 3-6 weeks after your workshop.

If you have questions after attending a RAP sheet workshop, you can call any day of the week and ask for a paralegal.

RAP sheets often have these types of mistakes: 1) information about an arrest without information about how the case ended; 2) wrong outcome of your case; 3) information about your conviction appears more than once, making it seem like you have more convictions than you do; 4) making a warrant look open when it no longer is open; and 5) cases are listed even though they can be sealed.  You can read more about sealing in the next set of questions, “Sealing & Expungement”.

It depends on the type of mistake. Often, you will need to visit or contact the court where your case was heard and get an official court disposition (an official court record of the case). You may sometimes need to pay for these, though the court will sometimes not charge the fee if you cannot afford it.  At other times, you may need to ask for a printout of court appearances for your case. For cases that are not sealed properly, you may need to file a motion with the court. (LAC has model motions available in the Resources section.)

LAC’s National H.I.R.E. Network provides information about government agencies and community-based organizations that assist people with criminal records in other states.  Unfortunately, LAC cannot provide criminal record services to individuals living outside of New York State.

Agencies interested in trainings on RAP sheet issues should call (212) 243-1313, Monday through Friday during normal business hours. Please request to speak with the Training Coordinator.

For more information about your RAP sheet in New York State, please read:

Arrests ending with either a Juvenile Delinquent (JD) adjudication (finding) or a Youthful Offender (YO) adjudication are confidential. This means that the police, the courts and the state keep the information, but generally are not allowed to share it. However, they may share it with the staff of corrections agencies and, for young people, they may share it with the staff at their schools.

The information can be used to enforce an order of protection and for very limited types of employment, including employment by police departments and the military.

“Sealing” means that the case is removed from the criminal records available to most employers and others. Fingerprints, palm prints and mug shots also are destroyed. Please note that the information does not disappear from your record completely.   (Sealing is not expungement. Expungement means a record is completely erased.  New York State does not expunge any criminal records.)

It is illegal for most employers to ask about or use sealed or confidential information. This means they cannot ask about a sealed criminal record or use it when you are applying for a job or while you are employed. It also is illegal for state government agencies who give out occupational licenses to ask about or use sealed or confidential information.

  1. You, if you get a copy of your own RAP sheet.
  2. Any agency you apply to for a gun license.
  3. Your employer, if you apply to work as a peace officer or in law enforcement.
  4. The military, if you apply to enlist.
  5. Some jobs that require federal clearance, for example a job at a bank that requires FDIC approval.
  6. Your Parole or Probation Officer, if you are arrested while on parole or probation.
  7. Prosecutors and other law enforcement officials, if they show a court that “justice requires” them to have the information.
  8. Sealed convictions for violations, such as disorderly conduct, are available to anyone who goes to the court where the conviction occurred.

a. Dismissed and Other Cases with no Conviction
These include:

  • Acquittals;
  • Dismissals;
  • Declined prosecutions;
  • Dismissals after an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal” (ACD).
  • No true bills issued by a grand jury

But some dismissals CANNOT be sealed:

  • Dismissals because you were convicted on another charge or another case, (sometimes described as “covered by another case”)
  • Dismissals because of “mental disease or defect” (sometimes called a 730 dismissal).
  • Dismissals in which the judge found on the record that “the interests of justice” required that the case not be sealed and issued a “Do not seal” order.

Since November 1991, these cases usually are sealed automatically.  If your case happened before November 1991 and is not sealed, you may have to file a motion to seal it.

b. Most violation convictions (except unlawful possession of marijuana)

A violation is a conviction for a non-criminal offense, such as:

  • Disorderly Conduct;
  • Trespassing;
  • Harassment in the Second Degree;
  • Loitering.

Note: Violations of parole, probation or conditional discharge are not violation “convictions.”

But some violation convictions CANNOT be sealed:

  • Driving While Ability Impaired;
  • Loitering in a Sexually Deviant Manner;
  • If the judge orders that the case not be sealed.

Sealing of violation convictions usually does not happen until the end of your sentence. This is usually one year from the date you were sentenced. Since November 1991, these cases are usually sealed automatically. If your case happened before November 1991 and is not sealed, you may have to file a motion to seal it.

c. Violation Convictions for Unlawful Possession of Marijuana

Convictions for possession of less than 7/8 of an ounce of marijuana outside of public view are also violations but may be treated differently from other violations.

You may have to wait 3 years before sealing these violations.

Since November 1991, these cases are usually sealed automatically after the 3 years. If your case happened before November 1991 and is not sealed, you may have to file a motion to seal it.

d. Juvenile Delinquencies (JDs)

JDs result when people who are older than 7 but younger than 16 are convicted of an act that would be considered a crime if the person was over the age of 16.

Note: People who are 13, 14, or 15 and are accused of certain serious crimes may be tried as Juvenile Offenders (Jos).  Jos are treated the same way as an adult conviction. JOs are not JDs and cannot be sealed.

JDs are confidential but are still available to the criminal justice system. This means that if you are later convicted of a crime, the judge can consider records from the JD when sentencing you.

After you turn 16, you can file a motion with the court to have your JD sealed, as long as you were not convicted of certain types of felonies.

e. Limited Felonies and Misdemeanors

Survivors of “sex trafficking” can apply to vacate and seal their convictions of prostitution or loitering for the purpose of prostitution as a result of being trafficked. In some cases, other convictions related to being trafficked also may be sealed.

Since October 2009, as part of Rockefeller Drug Law Reform, judges may conditionally seal certain felonies and misdemeanors in the following very limited circumstances:

  • You completed a court-mandated alcohol or drug treatment program, AND
  • You completed any other sentence imposed following the completion of treatment, AND
  • You have no pending charges.

Unfortunately, convictions from New York State courts cannot be expunged. They cannot be completely erased from records.  But some cases can be sealed, meaning that they are kept confidential for most purposes. (See above).

You should get a copy of your New York State RAP sheet. You can request a copy from the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), by visiting DCJS’s website, or you can contact the Legal Action Center at (212) 243-1313 to set up an appointment for a RAP sheet workshop.

To find out more about arrests and adjudications before the age of 19, please read LAC’s publication,

For more information on how to seal cases that resulted from human trafficking, read:

For more information about Rockefeller conditional sealing and how to apply, please read LAC’s publication,

If you have convictions in other states, visit LAC’s National H.I.R.E. Network for assistance in other states who may be able to help you. You can also visit LAC’s 2009 report, Roadblocks to Reentry, to learn more about laws in other states.

Yes, there are many other steps you can take to improve your chances of getting and keeping a job.

First, make sure you know exactly what is on your criminal record. Read “How to Get and Correct your New York State Record of Arrest and Prosecutions (RAP) Sheet” above to find out how to get a copy of your RAP sheet.

Second, you might be eligible to apply for a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct. To find out more information on these Certificates, please read the sections on this page below, “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities & Good Conduct” and “Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining Certificates”.

Lastly, read the “Workplace Rights” section below to find out more about your employment rights.  You will learn how to describe your record when filling out a job application, what employers likely will find out about your record, and what laws protect you from job discrimination. You can also read LAC’s guide on How to Gather Evidence of Rehabilitation to learn what kinds of information you can give to your employer and others to convince them not to use your convictions to deny your application.

These two Certificates can help you get jobs, housing, and other benefits even though you have a criminal record. Here is how:

  • Some New York laws say you cannot work in a certain field or get an occupational license because of your conviction. The certificate removes that restriction, except for law enforcement agencies. You will no longer be automatically disqualified from that job or occupational license. But NOTE – even when you have a certificate, the employer or agency can still look at your criminal record. The certificate just means that you cannot be completely barred.  Also NOTE – jobs that are considered public offices require a Certificate of Good Conduct, not a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities. The definition of public office is complicated. Public office does not only refer to elected office. It also includes a number of other jobs, including firefighters. Call LAC for more information.
  • A Certificate can restore other rights or privileges you lost because of your conviction. For example, New York law says you cannot be appointed the legal guardian of a child if you have certain felony convictions. The Certificate removes that restriction. New York law also says that people on parole cannot vote (though other people with convictions can), but the Certificate can restore the right to vote. For more information, please read LAC’s “Voting Rights” FAQ.
  • Certificates provide evidence (a “presumption”) of rehabilitation. They should be weighed in your favor when you apply for employment, licensing or housing.
  • New York employers must consider your certificate when deciding whether to give you a job. So must government agencies that give licenses to work in certain jobs.

Note: Certificates of Relief and Certificates of Good Conduct cannot restore gun rights to individuals convicted of a Class A-I felony offense or a violent felony offense.

No, it does not expunge, erase or seal your conviction.  A certificate does not mean that employers and others will not be able to see or use your criminal conviction or that you do not have to disclose it, when asked. The information may still show up on a background check.

No, a certificate is not a pardon for your conviction.

The two certificates have very similar impacts. The only difference is that the Certificate of Relief from Disabilities cannot restore the right to hold public office. Public office means special appointed or elected government jobs, not all government jobs. You may call LAC if you want to know if a job is a public office. Only a Certificate of Good Conduct can restore the right to hold public office. The Certificates also have different eligibility requirements and application processes, which are discussed in questions below.

Yes, if you have any misdemeanor and/or felony convictions. Depending on the number of felony convictions you have, there may be a waiting period before you can apply. For more information about the application process, see the “Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining Certificates” section of this FAQs page.

It depends on your conviction history. See the “Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining Certificates” section of this FAQs page to find out which one applies to you.

Not in most cases. You can only be eligible for one or the other unless applying for public offices or gun rights.

It depends on what kind of convictions you have, what your sentence was and where your conviction happened. See the “Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining Certificates” section of this FAQs page to find out how to apply.

You should get a copy of your New York State RAP sheet. You can request a copy from the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), or you can call LAC to make an appointment for our RAP sheet workshop on Wednesdays.

  1. If you are not sure, get a copy of your RAP Sheet. You can order it from the state directly or you can call LAC to make an appointment for LAC’s RAP sheet workshop, held on Wednesdays.
  2. If you think you have a record in other states or in federal court, you should also order a RAP sheet from the FBI.

You may also get a copy of your record from the other states where you were arrested. To find out how to get these records, visit the website of LAC’s National H.I.R.E. Network, select the state, then look for information about the state’s “criminal record repository.”

  1. Remember to include felonies in other states and federal felonies.
  2. Important: If you were convicted of more than one count in the same courtroom on the same day, it generally counts as only one felony for the certificate.
  1. You may only apply for the Certificate of Good Conduct. This certificate will cover all of your convictions.
  2. You may only apply through the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). You may get an application on DOCCS’s website.
  3. There is a waiting period, which depends on your most serious felony (not your last one).
    • For anAor a B felony, the waiting period is 5 years.
    • For a CD, or E felony, the waiting period is 3 years.
  4. The waiting period started the last time you got out of jail or prison (onto parole or maxed out) OR the date of your last criminal conviction if you were not incarcerated, whichever was last.
  1. You are eligible to apply for the Certificate of Relief from Disabilities, unless you want to restore gun rights or public office rights.
  2. Certificates of Relief only cover one conviction. You can apply for certificates for each of your convictions.
  3. If you served time in state prison for a New York felony, apply to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) for the Certificate for the felony. You may get an application on DOCCS’s website.
  4. If you have a felony or a misdemeanor in another state or in federal court, apply to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) for the certificates for these convictions. You may get an application on DOCCS’s website.
  5. If you only served probation or time in a local jail for a New York felony, apply for the certificate from the Court Clerk of the court where you were convicted.
  6. For all New York misdemeanors, apply for the certificate from the Court Clerk of the court where you were convicted.

Employers may ask about criminal convictions, but not if they are sealed.  Employers may not ask about:

  • Arrests that did not lead to conviction, such as acquittals and dismissals,
  • Sealed violations — which are non-criminal offenses,
  • Sealed misdemeanors and felonies, and
  • Youthful Offender (YO) adjudications.

Employers may ask about open (pending) arrests.

It depends. It is illegal to deny you a job or fire you because of a criminal record unless that record is “directly related” to the job in question, or unless hiring you would create an “unreasonable risk” to the safety of people or property.  This protection is in Article 23-A of the New York Correction Law and in the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

It also is illegal for most employers to deny you a job or to fire you based on:

  • Arrests that did not lead to conviction, such as acquittals and dismissals,
  • Sealed violations — which are non-criminal offenses,
  • Sealed misdemeanors and felonies, and
  • Youthful Offender (YO) adjudications.

But if you have an open arrest, an employer may consider it.

Federal law also provides some protection from discrimination if you are African-American or Hispanic.  The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that refusing to hire people because of their criminal record can be a form of race discrimination because African-Americans and Hispanics are arrested and convicted at much higher rates than whites. Employers may only refuse to hire people because of a criminal record if it is “job-related” and “consistent with business necessity.”

Outside of New York, your rights depend on the laws of the state where you work or want to work. Federal law also provides some protection from discrimination if you are African-American or Hispanic.  The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that refusing to hire people because of their criminal record can be a form of race discrimination because African-Americans and Hispanics are arrested and convicted at much higher rates than whites. Employers may only refuse to hire people because of a criminal record if it is “job-related” and “consistent with business necessity.”

Yes, you should tell the truth. While it is tempting to lie, in the hope that the employer might not find out about your criminal record, most employers run criminal background checks.  It is likely that they will find out anyway. If you lie directly or you leave out information and the employer finds out, the employer can legally refuse to hire you and can legally fire you because of the lie. This is so even if your criminal record itself should not disqualify you from the job.

You can take many steps to improve your chances, including correcting errors on your record, obtaining Certificates of Relief from Disability or Good Conduct, demonstrating your rehabilitation. Information about how to take many of these steps can be found on this page.

Yes, In New York State, people with criminal convictions CAN VOTE unless they are:

  • currently incarcerated for a felony conviction, or
  • on parole and do not have either a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.

Everyone else with a criminal conviction can vote!

In New York State, you may vote if you:

  • are on probation – even if you have a felony conviction.
  • are on parole and have a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities” or a “Certificate of Good Conduct.”
  • were convicted of a felony but not sentenced to state prison time.
  • were charged with a felony, but have not yet been convicted – even if you are in jail awaiting trial.
  • were only convicted of misdemeanors – even if you are in a local jail.
  • already served your maximum prison time.
  • were discharged from parole.
  • were pardoned or exonerated.

In New York, you do NOT need a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities” or other document in order to register to vote.

Yes, even if you are in jail, you are allowed to vote in New York State, as long as you are not serving time for a felony conviction. However, in order to vote:

  • You must request an absentee ballot.
  • It must be postmarked no later than the day before the Election
  • Once you receive the ballot, put the permanent home address on the registration form (not the address of the jail).

It depends. In 2009, New York changed its criminal sentencing laws to allow increased diversion of individuals with addiction histories into treatment instead of incarceration.

For more information about changes to New York’s drug laws, please read LAC’s publication,

Substance Use

Usually it is illegal, assuming you are qualified for the job. Two federal laws, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, prohibit employment discrimination against people with disabilities. Addiction and other substance use disorders are often considered “disabilities” under these laws. For New Yorkers, the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws have similar protections. If you live outside of New York, your state may also have anti-discrimination laws that protect people from discrimination based on addiction.  These laws forbid employers from refusing to hire you or from firing you because you are in recovery unless your addiction would prevent you from performing the duties of the job competently and safely.

Yes, if you are qualified for the job.  Anti-discrimination laws protect you from discrimination if you have a current alcohol disorder.  For example, if you apply for a job and tell the employer than you are in treatment for alcoholism, the employer is not allowed to deny you the job if you are otherwise qualified for it.   But it is legal for your boss to fire you for not doing your job or for breaking workplace rules.  For example, if your job says you have to call in for sick days and you do not do so, your boss may legally fire you even if your alcoholism is the reason you were out sick.

No.  If you are “currently” using drugs illegally, you are not protected by anti-discrimination laws.  For example, if you tell a prospective employer that are in drug treatment but have not used drugs illegally since last month, courts likely would find that the employer was allowed to deny you the job based on your “current” illegal use of drugs.  Illegal use is considered “current” if it was recent enough that someone could reasonably believe it is an ongoing issue.

Yes. To learn about these protections, please read the “Medication-Assisted Treatment: Methadone, Buprenorphine, & Naltrexone” section of this FAQ page.

If you suffer from alcoholism, you have the right to a “reasonable accommodation,” such as time off from work to seek treatment. If your employer allows employees to take time off for the treatment of other health conditions, the employer should allow you to take time off for addiction treatment. The only reason your boss would not need to give you the accommodation is if it would be too costly or too much of a burden. But you usually need to ask for the accommodation, and you may need to give proof from your doctor. You may also be entitled to take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Be careful if you need time off for drug treatment.  Your employer could legally deny you the time off and could even fire you.  This is because employers are allowed to fire you, not hire you, and otherwise treat you negatively if you “currently” use drugs illegally. However, many employers do choose to permit people to take leaves of absence for drug treatment. You should find out your employer’s policy before telling them about your drug use.

These questions are illegal. Employers are not allowed to ask about disabilities, including addiction, until they offer you a job. However, employers are permitted to ask you about current or past illegal drug use and alcohol use. But they may not ask whether you have ever been diagnosed with a drug or alcohol addiction, or anything that would force you to reveal that you have been addicted to drugs or alcohol. Questions such as “how often have you used drugs in the past?” or “how many drinks of alcohol do you have in one week?” are not legal. But questions like “do you drink alcohol?” are legal. Employers also may ask if you have a condition that would prevent you from doing the job.

After offering you a job, prospective employers may require you to pass a medical exam or answer questions about your medical history. This includes asking whether you have ever been diagnosed with a drug or alcohol addiction or other substance use disorder.

Employers sometimes do ask illegal questions. If you live in New York and want advice about how to answer an illegal question, you may call the New York State Division of Human Rights at (212) 870-8400; if you live in New York City, you may also call the New York City Commission on Human Rights at (212) 306-7500. Or you may call the Legal Action Center at (212) 243-1313.

If you are asked about your drug or alcohol addiction after getting a job offer, you should tell the truth, for a very practical reason: employers who find out that you lied may legally deny you the job or fire you for lying.

If you are asked about your drug or alcohol addiction before getting a job offer, the question is illegal. But it is hard to know the best response. If you do not disclose information about your addiction in response to an illegal question, and the employer later finds out the truth, the employer might deny you the job or fire you. That could be illegal discrimination, but very few courts have addressed this issue. It is a good idea to seek legal advice before answering any illegal question.

For more information about laws that protect you from discrimination based on your alcohol or drug addiction history, please read:

 

You also might want to take LAC’s free webinar, “Employment Discrimination Against People with Alcohol and Drug Histories.”

Generally not. People receiving medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction are protected by laws prohibiting disability-based discrimination. Employers may not take action against you if you are “otherwise qualified” for the job. That means that you meet the job standards, such as education and experience, and can perform the essential job duties.For more information about laws protecting people in recovery from addiction from job discrimination, please read the “Employment Discrimination section” of this Substance Use FAQs page.

If you take prescribed methadone, there is a good chance it will show up in a drug test. Buprenorphine (like Suboxone) may show up if the employer is specifically testing for it; naltrexone (like Vivitrol) likely will not be revealed in a drug test. If you take prescribed medication to treat your addiction and you must take a drug test, you should provide documentation, such as a letter from your physician, that you are receiving medication-assisted treatment and taking legally-prescribed medication. Do not lie if asked about your prescribed medications.  An employer is not allowed to discriminate against you because you are taking addiction medication or because you have a history of addiction. But an employer can refuse to hire you, or fire you, for lying about your medications during a legal drug test.

You will not be eligible for an interstate trucking license, which allows you to drive between different states, if you take methadone. The U.S. Department of Transportation forbids it. Intrastate trucking licenses, which allow you to drive inside one state, are governed by state law. New York State generally follows federal law and does not allow people taking methadone to get a trucking license.

If a probation or parole officer, or a judge, has a policy forbidding people from taking addiction medication even when a physician recommends it, this may violate anti-discrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. If this happens to you, you may call the Legal Action Center at (212) 243-1313.

For more information about laws that protect you from being discriminated against because you receive medication for your opioid addiction, please read:

For additional information, please review our Resources on medication-assisted treatment.

HIV/AIDS

Generally, yes. If you are qualified for the job, it is illegal for employers to deny you the job or treat you differently because you have HIV or AIDS.  HIV and AIDS are considered “disabilities” under laws that make it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. This is true even for most health care jobs.

If you have a disability, you have the right to a “reasonable accommodation” in the workplace.  This can include additional time off for medical reasons.  It can also include a change in your work schedule or job duties if necessary for you to do your job.  But your boss would not need to give you the accommodation if it would be too costly or too much of a burden.  Note that you usually need to ask for the accommodation, and you may need to provide written proof from your doctor.  That could include disclosing your HIV status.

Not before offering the job.  Before a job offer, it is illegal to ask if you have any medical condition, including HIV of AIDS.  Employers also may not ask your medications because that could reveal your HIV status.  But it is legal for employers to ask whether you have a physical or mental condition that might make you unable to do the job.  It is also legal for an employer to make you take a drug test.

After an employer makes a job offer that is conditioned on passing a medical exam or filling out a medical form, the employer may legally require you to pass a medical exam.  But am employer may only do this if everyone offered the same position is required to take a medical exam.  It is legal to ask about your HIV status and HIV medications during this medical exam.

It depends.  Once you start work, an employer may require a medical exam or ask for medical information only if the exam or questions are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”  This generally happens when an employee has work performance problems, and it is reasonable for the employer to believe a medical problem is contributing to the work problems.

We advise you to tell the truth, for a very practical reason. Your employer could easily learn your HIV status through a medical exam or a drug test.  If the employer finds out you lied, it is legal for the employer to deny you the job for lying.  It also is legal to fire you even if you have been a good employee.  On the other hand, if you tell the truth and an employer rejects or fires you because you have HIV/AIDS, you can challenge this as illegal job discrimination.

It depends.  If your employer gets the information from a required medical exam or from a voluntary health program on the work site, it must be kept confidential.  Your employer also must keep the confidentiality of any HIV information it got with your written consent.  But if you or your co-workers tell your employer about your HIV status in any other way, the employer may not need to keep the information confidential.  For example, if you tell your boss you are upset because you just found out you have HIV, your boss would not have to keep that information confidential.

Only if you gave your doctor your written consent to disclose that information.  New York law requires most health and social service providers to keep HIV information confidential.  Even if the law allows your employer to require a medical examination, your doctor may not disclose that you have HIV or AIDS without your written consent.  But beware:  if you do not consent to the disclosure, and your employer is legally entitled to that information, the employer may legally deny you the job.  Have your doctor read medical forms carefully to make sure HIV information really is required.

In New York, call the New York State Division of Human Rights at (888) 392-3644, New York City Commission on Human Rights at (212) 306-7450, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at (800) 669-4000, or Legal Action Center at (212) 243-1313.  There are deadlines, so call soon after the illegal act happens!

Visit Resources for more information on these issues.

Need More Help?

If you need more legal help,  please visit the various areas of our What We Do section.

Help with a Criminal Justice issue.

Help with a  Substance Use issue.

Help with an HIV/AIDS issue.

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