Options for Dealing with a Criminal Record: Expungement and Sealing in New York

Having an arrest or criminal conviction record can hurt your future in many ways: blocking your ability to find employment, or hold certain professional licenses, to mention just a few. New York law provides a few ways to wipe out criminal records or shield them from public view.

About 40 states have procedures for expunging – that is, wiping out – criminal records, but New York does not allow expungement — complete destruction — of records for the most serious criminal charges — misdemeanors (punishable by up to a year in jail) or felonies (punishable by longer prison terms) committed by an adult, if a conviction resulted.

It does not matter what, if any, sentence was handed down following conviction — a jail sentence, probation or a conditional discharge. The exception is for youthful offenders, meaning those under the age of 19 at the time the crime was committed, for whom there are special procedures for expunging some criminal records.

For adults, there is a class of very minor offenses, known as violations, which courts generally wipe out automatically after the passage of a certain amount of time. These include run-of-the-mill traffic rule infractions, or other minor offenses, such as disorderly conduct.

A more widely available alternative to expungement is to seal criminal records. Unlike expungement, this does not obliterate all records of a criminal arrest or conviction, but instead restricts who can access them. The sealing may not be permanent: in some cases, orders to seal criminal court records can be reversed, or sealed records can be temporarily re-opened if a court orders that.

The records from your criminal case can be sealed if it was dismissed outright or dismissed after adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (a commonly used court administrative process), if prosecutors refused to go forward with it, or if you won an acquittal. New York law also has special provisions for sealing records in cases involving some drug offenses, for persons who successfully complete a treatment program and any jail sentence, if the court imposed one.

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