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How to Seal a Criminal Record in New York

Criminal defense attorneys give their legal advice

For years, the man had been passed over for promotions at the company where he worked thanks in part to the criminal conviction he’d gotten long ago. He was unaware he could actually do something about it. Then he contacted Elena Fast. “We worked on getting that conviction sealed to allow our client to be promoted within the company,” says Fast, a criminal defense attorney.

A criminal record, even for a minor crime, can haunt you for life. In New York, it bars you from living in public housing, you could lose your voting rights, and it could interfere with job opportunities. “This becomes an issue when the employer is [deciding] between two candidates,” Fast says. “Employers can’t discriminate against you under New York laws for having a criminal record, but at the same time, the employer may find a pretextual reason to offer the job to somebody else just because they’re worried about something that you’ve done in your past.”

What’s more, says criminal defense attorney Andrew Stengel, “If you’re convicted of a misdemeanor and the case is not sealed, anybody can go to the courthouse and get the record and find out about it.”
Unlike some states, New York doesn’t allow you to expunge, or destroy, your police and court records except in certain marijuana-related crimes. Thanks to a state law enacted in 2017, however, you can apply to have your record sealed to the general public, employers and colleges. (If you were convicted as a child or youthful offender, your records are automatically sealed from the general public.)

“So many people don’t know about this,” says Fast. “They go about their lives and they think, ‘Oh, it is what it is. I was young and irresponsible. It’s just my stripes.’ But I really think if people have convictions, if they have something in their past, they should either consult an attorney or they should look at the application online and see if their case qualifies.”

To seal your record, you must submit your application to the judge who sentenced you. Requirements include a minimum of 10 years since your sentencing or release from prison (whichever is later), two or fewer convictions on your criminal record, and no pending charges. Convictions for sex crimes and violent felonies are not eligible.

The sealing process generally takes between three and six months, depending on whether a prosecutor opposes your request. It can be tedious, says Fast. “The forms are all available on the court website, so you can read the instructions and put it together,” she says. “But it’s very voluminous in terms of the time and the effort that it takes.”

An attorney can speed things up and make sure you cover all your bases. “You’ve heard the expression, ‘Measure twice, cut once.’ You want to take your best shot when you file a motion to have a conviction sealed,” Stengel says. “There are certain affidavits that are crucial in prevailing in a sealing motion that a layperson might not know about that an attorney does.”

Regardless of the challenges, the lawyers say sealing records has made a huge difference for their clients. “It’s like a weight lifted off their shoulders,” says Stengel. “It’s painful to have a conviction, whether it’s sealed or not, but my clients who have convictions sealed sleep a little better at night.”

For more information on this area of law, see our overview of criminal defense or reach out to a reputable criminal defense attorney.

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