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New law allows for sealing of old criminal offense records

A hopeful law went into effect in New York State on Oct.7. It allows for the sealing of criminal conviction records in specified circumstances. Both private attorneys and public defenders can file the paper work on behalf of clients. The conviction for a criminal offense must be at least 10 years old. Some types of offenses are automatically prohibited from relief.

In addition, relief is limited to persons who have no more than two misdemeanors or one felony conviction. Experts estimate that there may be over 600,000 people who are potentially eligible for relief. The program has, however, been getting off to a slow start with only four people in the state having had cases sealed thus far under the new law.

That is likely due to administrative glitches in disseminating information on required procedural practices to the legal community, courts and potential applicants. Offenders who were convicted of drug-related crimes over 10 years ago will generally by qualified to apply for relief under this law. Usually, such legislation requires a clean slate since the prior conviction.

When a person's records are sealed, it will have the effect of showing no criminal record, thereby qualifying the person for various financial, housing and other benefits that are now withheld. A criminal record is also a great burden for many people with old convictions who are still hampered in employment efforts. Many employers perform criminal background checks on prospective employees.

That may seem surprising considering that another existing New York law prohibits employers from using a person's criminal history in the hiring process. However, applicants report that employers routinely hold conviction of an old criminal offense against them when they apply for work. The new law is a promising first step in restoring basic human rights to persons convicted of crimes many years ago.

Source: msn.com, "Legal Aid aims to seal criminal records for 600,000 New Yorkers", Shayna Jacobs, Nov. 26, 2017

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