If you are charged with a crime on Long Island or in New York, you must be represented by a Nassau County criminal defense attorney. If you have been convicted of a crime and you’ve served your sentence, you may be wondering, “Can my criminal record be sealed or expunged?”

In a number of states, expungement entirely erases a criminal conviction, but is expungement available in the State of New York? What is the difference between expunging a criminal record and “sealing” that record? Will a Nassau County criminal defense lawyer be able to help?

What steps can you take to keep your criminal record from the eyes of anyone who may care to see it? If you’ll continue reading this brief discussion of sealing and expunging criminal records in the State of New York, you will learn the answers you may need.

How Does a Criminal Conviction Impact Your Rights?

Across the U.S., more than seventy million people have one or more previous criminal convictions. These individuals are subject to federal and state laws and regulations that restrict their rights – their housing, employment, and voting rights as well as the right to own firearms.

In some jurisdictions, a criminal conviction also impacts your driving privileges. Some of the regulations about previous convictions make good sense – keeping convicted child abusers from minors, for instance – but many of the rules are completely unrelated to any crime or conviction.

What Steps Can You Take?

If you’re routinely rejected for employment or housing, an old criminal conviction may be the reason why. Since 2017, New York has allowed thousands of people to seal their old convictions – after at least ten years – and to keep those convictions from the eyes of employers, landlords, and from almost anyone who is investigating someone’s background.

Those who seek to seal a conviction in New York need to know that having a conviction sealed is not the equivalent of “expunging” that conviction. New York law, in most cases, does not permit the expungement of adult conviction records.

In the states where it is available, expungement erases all traces of a conviction. Sealing a conviction hides it from the general public, but law enforcement officials in New York may still see some convictions in some circumstances. Who may see a sealed conviction in New York?:

  1.  a defendant, a defendant’s attorney, or a prosecutor
  2.  police agencies conducting law enforcement duties
  3.  local and state agencies that license firearms owners
  4.  employers of police officers
  5.  the FBI conducting a background check for a firearms purchase application

Which Criminal Records May Be Sealed?

In New York, four different types of records may be sealed: arrest records, juvenile conviction records, non-criminal convictions, and the criminal convictions of adults.

If you’ve been arrested in this state, the record of your arrest is sealed automatically if you weren’t convicted, if your case was dismissed, dropped, or vacated, or if your conviction was set aside by the court.

If you were convicted for a non-criminal offense such as a violation before November 1991, that record can probably be sealed with the help of a Nassau County criminal defense attorney.

Since November 1991, convictions for violations and other non-criminal offenses are sealed automatically after a year (unless the court has issued a “do not seal” order).

How Can Juvenile Records Be Sealed?

If someone from the age of 14 to under the age of 19 is convicted of a crime, a judge in New York can assign “youthful offender” status to that young person at sentencing. Youthful offender status gives a young person the chance to have no criminal record – even after certain felony convictions.

Youthful offender status seals the conviction automatically, and the conviction does not have to be reported when someone applies to an employer or a college.

In 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law that allows anyone who was convicted of a crime under the age of 19 – but denied the ability to seal the record at that time – to reapply for youthful offender status and to have the record sealed.

If you were convicted of a crime as a young person in New York, and if that record has not been sealed, contact a Long Island criminal defense lawyer to discuss what steps you should take.

What About Sealing an Adult’s Criminal Conviction?

Except for some marijuana possession convictions, the criminal conviction record of an adult cannot be expunged, but in some cases, New York allows the sealing of an adult’s criminal conviction.

The following conviction records can’t be sealed in New York: most convictions for sex crimes, convictions for violent crimes (whether or not violence actually occurred), and Class A felony convictions.

To have an adult criminal conviction sealed in this state, you must have no new convictions and no new charges pending. A Long Island criminal defense attorney can file the appropriate paperwork with the court on your behalf and represent you through the process of sealing the conviction.

When Should You Begin the Process of Sealing a Conviction?

It is difficult to seal a conviction, so if it’s coming up on ten years since your conviction, start now to compile the documents and other information that should accompany your request. A Nassau County criminal defense lawyer can guide you and ensure that you make no mistakes.

Requests to seal convictions are not granted automatically, and the court that sentenced you will have the final say about your request. If you are still waiting for ten years to elapse, start now to prove you’re a rehabilitated, productive part of your community. For example:

  1.  Volunteer for a local charity or another community organization.
  2.  Further your education or pursue additional vocational training.
  3.  Do not pile up serious debt, use illegal drugs, or get into additional legal trouble.

What Else Should You Know About Sealing Legal Records?

If the court does not reject your petition to seal your conviction, but the prosecutor in your case objects to it, the court might convene a hearing on the request. If the prosecutor does not object to sealing the record, the court may convene a hearing or approve or deny the request without a hearing.

Thousands of people with criminal convictions on Long Island and throughout New York may be able to seal old convictions and then move ahead constructively and positively with their futures.

If you are among these New Yorkers, contact a Long Island criminal defense lawyer – as quickly as you can – for the legal advice and services you will require to seal your criminal record.