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A Second Chance for Ex-Offenders?

They say that to err is human. All of us from time to time make mistakes. Some mistakes, those involving the violation of a criminal statute, can have life changing impact, not merely upon the offender, or, in some types of crimes, a victim, but upon the offender’s family and the community at large.

“Expungement of record” or “sealing of record” are legal mechanisms which refer to the act or practice of officially preventing public access to particular criminal records in the absence of a court order.  They are written into the laws of many states to enable people with limited brushes with the law to move on with their lives after a period of time elapses.

Currently, New York State has no expungement or sealing law applicable to adults who are convicted of crimes, either felonies or misdemeanors. No matter how many years pass or how much he or she changes direction in life, a conviction follows an ex-offender to the grave.  People with past criminal convictions face many obstacles in the quest for employment; more than 100 occupations in New York State require some type of license, registration, or certification by a state agency. They face discrimination in housing, education and other areas as well.  The economic and other effects are felt not only by them, but by their families as well.

Recently, members of the New York State Legislature have proposed bills to provide ex-offenders with a second chance.  The pending bills are an effort to create a balance between the interests of ex-offenders and the interests of law enforcement and other members of the public.  They exclude certain types of crimes deemed unsuitable for sealing, allow for objection by the prosecution, and require significant waiting periods of good behavior before an application to seal a record can be made.

CMG partner Rick Collins is privileged to have been appointed to co-chair a special committee of the New York State Bar Association to examine the two pending bills and to offer recommendations to the Executive Committee of the Criminal Justice Section of the Bar Association as to what position, if any, the Bar Association should take.  The report examines the components or “elements” of the two bills, along with New Jersey’s corresponding statute for guidance, and presents the suggestions and recommendations of the committee members and the overall conclusion of the committee.  We will keep you posted on the progress of this important initiative.

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