Breaking Biases

AMANDA COLTON

It can often be difficult for individuals with criminal convictions to find employment or housing, even years after serving their sentence. Even with protections in place, some employers and landlords can’t fight an unconscious bias towards these individuals. Local attorney Matthew Porter has begun using a new law passed in October of last year to protect his clients from such bias.

    New York State does not have any laws in place to erase, or expunge, criminal records. Instead, New York offers a processes for sealing certain criminal records. For an individual experiencing additional hardship due to an old conviction, applying to have their records sealed may be an attractive option.

     “When a person’s record is sealed it is not erased, but any related fingerprints, booking photos, and DNA samples may be returned to the individual or destroyed, and records of their crime will no longer be available to the public,” explained Mr. Porter.

    Under New York’s Executive Law Section 296(16), employers are prohibited from inquiring about or taking any discriminatory action based on an individual’s sealed record. This means that if a record is sealed it cannot be considered in an application for employment.

    “However,” said Mr. Porter, “this law does not apply to law enforcement agencies, nor to those charged with federal licensing for firearms or other deadly weapons.”

    The two processes for having criminal records sealed are outlined in New York’s Criminal Procedure Law Sections 160.58 and 160.59. Section 160.59, effective October 2017, has created a new opportunity for individuals who have not been convicted of a crime in the past ten years to apply to have their criminal convictions sealed.

    Due to the individual nature of applying this new law, Mr. Porter is unable to state that any conviction will be automatically sealed. However, he was able to provide certain requirements a person must meet in order to apply to have a conviction sealed under the new law, primarily including but not limited to:

  • The individual may have up to two convictions, including only one felony conviction;
  • To be considered an “eligible offense” the conviction(s) must not have been for any of the following:

    ◦ sex offenses,

    ◦ other crimes requiring sex offender registration,

    ◦ Class A felonies (including but not limited to the following non-violent felonies: aggravated enterprise corruption, criminal possession or sale of a controlled substance in the first or second degree, operating as a major trafficker or conspiracy in the first degree)

    ◦ violent felonies, and

    ◦ attempts to commit any ineligible offenses under the categories listed above;

  • It must have been at least ten years since either

    ◦ the date the sentence was imposed, or

    ◦ the date of release from the individual’s last period of incarceration; and

  • The individual must not have been convicted of any new crimes during the ten-year waiting period.

    Once the application is filed, the local district attorney’s office has forty-five (45) days to notify the court whether they will oppose sealing the record. Then a judge must consider a number of factors in determining whether to grant a sealing application, including:

  • the amount of time since the individual’s last conviction,
  • the circumstances of the offense the individual seeks to have sealed,
  • any other convictions,
  • the individual’s character,
  • statements by any victims of the offense,
  • the impact sealing will have on the individual’s reintegration into society, and
  • the impact sealing will have on the public.

    Any experienced criminal attorney can help individuals determine whether they are eligible for sealing and to guide them through the sealing application process. The attorneys at Conboy, McKay, Bachman & Kendall, LLP, with offices in Jefferson County and St. Lawrence County, understand this new law and have begun aiding clients in having their criminal records sealed.

AMANDA COLTON is from Ogdensburg. In 2016, Amanda received her J.D. from Hofstra University and she is currently pending admission to the bar. Once admitted, Amanda will be practicing in the areas of domestic relations and criminal law.