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The First Step to a Second Chance: Criminal Record Sealing in New York Takes a Historic Move Forward …and Our Work to Change State Law, and Change the Lives of Ex-Offenders, Continues

There’s promising news for many reformed ex-offenders deserving of a second chance and a “fresh start” when it comes to the sealing of their criminal records.  On Friday, January 27th, the New York State Bar Association’s House of Delegates nearly unanimously backed a proposed change in state law that would allow judges to seal the criminal records of some people convicted of selected misdemeanors and low-level non-violent felonies – helping many ex-offenders recover from their mistakes and reducing some of the damaging effects of a past conviction when it comes to seeking employment, education and housing throughout their lifetime.

This is a major development that will affect a great number of people — and has the potential to change the law …and change lives.  With CMG partner Rick Collins behind this major initiative as the co-chair of the Criminal Justice Section Sealing Committee (which developed the proposal and presented it to the New York State Bar Association’s House of Delegates), we are excited to be on the forefront of working to make criminal record sealing a reality for many here in New York … and to play a role in actually changing New York State law when it comes to this important issue.

As long-time criminal defense attorneys — and through our work leading this new initiative in criminal record sealing — we are frequently asked by reformed ex-offenders about how they can “expunge” — or seal — their criminal record once they have served their sentence and paid their dues to society for a misdemeanor or low-level felony.  Currently, though, New York has no expungement or sealing law applicable to the vast majority of adults in the criminal justice system – meaning that a conviction generally follows an ex-offender throughout his/her entire life.  Unfortunately, as many people with a conviction on their record know, people with any type of a criminal record can be barred from more than 100 licensed professions, and face numerous roadblocks when it comes to housing and education.  There have been countless reformed ex-offenders denied jobs simply due to past low-level felonies on their records dating back 20 years.  And with unemployment playing a huge role in recidivism, changing the law to help ex-offenders start fresh without the stigma of a past transgression helps to actually decrease crime and to reduce the population on public assistance.  Not to mention to give deserving, reformed ex-offenders an important second chance to turn their lives around and be productive members of society.

Our goal is to change the law here in New York when it comes to criminal record sealing; however, in working with other Bar members to develop the Sealing Committee’s proposal, we included strict eligibility requirements for this proposed law change.  Our proposal is for people who make isolated or one-time mistakes, not for habitual offenders or career criminals.  Only a single felony conviction or up to three misdemeanors would be eligible for sealing.  The only felonies eligible to be sealed would be certain low-level, non-violent D and E felonies – our report recommends that sex crimes, crimes against children or the elderly, drunk driving offenses and crimes involving public corruption be excluded from eligibility for sealing.  In addition, our report recommends a five-year waiting period for misdemeanor convictions and an eight-year waiting period for a felony – during which time the offender must lead a law-abiding life and be free of criminal convictions.

As co-chair of the Sealing Committee that developed this proposal and is pushing it forward, CMG partner Rick Collins couldn’t have been more excited about the overwhelming approval and backing from the New York State Bar Association’s House of Delegates – and we are excited to now see the proposal move to the State Legislature for consideration.  Equally as important, as criminal defense attorneys who have seen first-hand how a prior conviction for a low-level felony can negatively impact a person’s entire life, we are encouraged by the fact that, if the sealing proposal receives final approval and does indeed become New York State law, so many ex-offenders will be able to finally put their past mistakes behind them – and get their life back on the right track.

Continue to check our website for further developments concerning progress of the New York State Sealing Law proposal as it moves its way through State Legislature.  Remember, if you or someone you know has a past conviction on your record that may be holding you back from employment, housing, education – and more – there may be hope on the horizon.  And, as leaders in this area who are fighting for the issue of criminal record sealing, we’ll be able to help best navigate you through the system to give you that all-important second chance.

We’re not the only ones who think that the January 27th backing from  the New York State Bar Association concerning the sealing proposal is big news – the story was covered in the New York Law Journal, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Long Island Business News.   Following is some of the media coverage that has appeared so far (including the television interview with Rick Collins by News12’s Stone Grissom) –  expect more news on this exciting issue in the months to come!

To read the full final version of the Sealing report, Click HERE

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