October 6th, 2017: Beginning tomorrow, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers could be eligible to have certain old criminal convictions sealed. An article published in today’s Wall Street Journal draws attention to a potentially transformative new law – and the Legal Action Center’s ongoing work to ensure that it lives up to its potential.
C.P.L. § 160.59, “Sealing of Certain Convictions,” was signed into law by Governor Cuomo this April after it passed with bipartisan support from the legislature as part Raise the Age legislation. The new sealing law goes into effect on October 7th.
This change in the law allows people who have not been convicted of a crime in 10 years to seal and have only two convictions, including one felony, to seal convictions for most crimes other than sex offenses and violent felonies. District attorneys will have 45 days to object to the application, and judges will have the discretion to require or waive a hearing.
As quoted in today’s Wall Street Journal article, Legal Action Center Senior Attorney Kate Wagner-Goldstein says “This law aims to give people the opportunity to overcome the stigma of a criminal conviction”.
“New York’s new sealing law opens critical opportunities for those whose convictions occurred long ago to have their records sealed, thereby removing a huge barrier to employment, housing and other necessities of life” says Paul N. Samuels, President and Director of the Legal Action Center. He adds “The success of this law, however, will hinge on how many eligible people know about it and the difficulty of the application”.
The Wall Street Journal article highlights the potential for the sealing law to be transformative, but also notes that it could fail to live up to this potential if the application process is overly burdensome. It points to a 2009 sealing law that allowed for certain convictions to be sealed after completion of mandated drug treatment, but that has had very limited reach due to “lack of publicity, limited free legal assistance for sealing applications, and little interest from judges”. The article cites concerns from advocates that the impact of the current sealing law could be similarly blunted due to similar pitfalls in implementation. Lead Assembly sponsor of the legislation – and long-time champion of criminal justice reform – Codes Committee Chair Joe Lentol points out in the article that the new law is much broader and can help hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.
District Attorneys Cyrus Vance and Eric Gonzalez are both quoted in the article as supportive of the new law, and to ensuring that the application process does not represent a barrier for eligible New Yorkers.
Forms and instructions for applying to have eligible convictions sealed are posted on the Office of Court Administration website. The Legal Action Center has developed FAQs to help people determine eligibility and, along with several other non-profit law firms in New York, will be offering free legal assistance to eligible individuals. Please call 212-243-1313 for more information.