New York Law Gives Reformed Offenders an Opportunity to Seal Convictions
by Derek Gilna
A 2017 New York law, CPL 160.59, gives certain nonviolent offenders an opportunity to have their state convictions sealed, according to attorneys Ed Kratt and Frank Rothman. One of their clients, Joel Figueroa, a former drug dealer convicted in 2001 who graduated from college and now works as a counselor for Catholic Charities of New York, was the first to take advantage of the new statute that was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo and went into effect on October 7, 2017.
Most ex-prisoners face significant challenges when they reenter society and try to obtain employment, due to their criminal record. Governor Cuomo agreed, saying, “Law-abiding New Yorkers should not be forever branded with the stigma of a nonviolent criminal conviction when they have turned their lives around.”
According to Kratt, “[Figueroa] came from a pretty tough neighborhood and clearly had some challenges in his life. It wasn’t surprising he got into drugs.” Kratt and Rothman said their client is now “dedicated to helping less fortunate children and families in the City of New York.”
According to the petition to have his record sealed, Figueroa has had no new arrests since 2001. “At this point, his move up the ladder is being stymied by his conviction, but once it’s sealed he’ll have an opportunity to excel,” Kratt stated. Figueroa’s employer said he will receive a promotion once his record is sealed.
The relief from past convictions is only available to nonviolent offenders who have not been convicted of a sex crime, and is limited to two convictions – only one of which can be a felony – that are at least ten years old. Class A felony offenses are excluded.
A petition must be filed with the sentencing court, and a copy served on the district attorney’s office. The court may hold a hearing before ruling on the petition.
“Employers from all corners of New York City unfortunately deny our clients and others employment because of nonviolent convictions more than a decade old,” said Seymour W. James, Jr., chief attorney for The Legal Aid Society. “This law will help prevent these situations from happening by affording thousands of New Yorkers the opportunity to finally have these records sealed.”
Naomi Post, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, also lauded the new statute, saying: “There are so many people impacted by the justice system who have turned their lives around and deserve a second chance – many of whom are still being held back by a criminal conviction for crimes committed when they were teenagers. The sealing provision provides that chance for those who meet its criteria by eliminating barriers to opportunities such as housing, jobs, higher education and more.”
More information about New York’s law to seal criminal records is available at www.nycourts.gov/courthelp/sealed.
Sources: www.nypost.com, www.governor.ny.gov