Article: New York’s New Law on Sealing Criminal Records: How It Works, What It Covers

criminal law reform

The New York state legislature passed, as part of the 2017-2018 budget bill, a new section 160.59, titled “Sealing of Certain Convictions,” which amends the state’s criminal laws. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it on April 10, 2017, and the new law will take effect 180 days later, on October 7, 2017, and will apply to criminal record searches from that date forward.

Once the new law is in effect, it will allow many people with criminal convictions dating back at least 10 years to apply to have the record of those convictions sealed (i.e. not open to the public generally, but only to specified persons, and only for uses allowed by the new law). The new law, backed by Gov. Cuomo, is intended to help persons with a record of criminal convictions gain wider access to opportunities for employment, housing and other benefits.

By the effective date, the chief administrator of New York will create a form for use by applicants seeking to have their old criminal convictions sealed. An applicant will not be required to use that form, but any application must include all the information that the form requires.

The applications will be submitted to the court in which a conviction was entered. The new law can be used to seal a single felony conviction, a felony and a misdemeanor, or two misdemeanors. If sealing is sought for two eligible crimes, the application must be submitted to the court which entered a felony conviction. If sealing is sought for two misdemeanor convictions, the application must go court where the more recent conviction occurred.

Who Can Apply, and For What Crimes?

The new sealing law covers convictions at least 10 years old. The time starts from the date of conviction, except for applications filed by a convict who is still incarcerated; in that case, the time starts from the date the applicant is released.

There are lifetime limits on the number of criminal convictions that can be sealed. Only a single felony conviction can be considered for possible sealing, although an application can be sought for both a felony and a misdemeanor, or for no more than two misdemeanors.

The conviction sealing process is not available for certain types of convictions. These include:

  • Crimes for which a conviction requires the defendant to register as a sex offender
  • Crimes for which the required 10 years has not already elapsed
  • Crimes exceeding the allowable maximum number (e.g. a second felony or a third misdemeanor)
  • Crimes exceeding the maximum allowable for defendants under judicial drug diversion programs (as specified in 160.58 of the New York penal code)

In addition, applicants will be ineligible if they:

  • Are currently facing any additional charge
  • Have been convicted of any crime after the date a conviction was entered for the last conviction for which sealing is requested
  • Fail to provide the court with the required sworn statement of their reason for seeking the sealing

A future article will describe what an application for sealing a conviction must include, how it will be processed, and the criteria upon which applications will be judged.