The first step in sealing or expunging a criminal record in the State of New York is to retain the advice and services of a Nassau County criminal defense lawyer. Across this nation, more than seventy million people have criminal records that include one or more convictions.
Here in New York, can those conviction records be sealed or expunged? The answer is, “It depends.” A single criminal conviction can restrict your rights for years: your employment, voting, housing rights, your right to own firearms, and your driving privileges.
What is the difference between “sealing” a criminal conviction record and “expunging” a conviction record? In this state, who qualifies to have a conviction record sealed or expunged? What steps will you have to take to have an old criminal conviction sealed or expunged?
If you’ll keep reading, you will find some of the answers you may need, but if you are someone with a criminal record that should be sealed or expunged, you will need the personalized advice and professional services that a Nassau County criminal defense attorney can provide.
What is Sealing a Record? What is Expunging a Record?
A criminal conviction is a matter of public record. Anyone can look online and learn whether someone else has a conviction for a felony or a misdemeanor. Even the records of arrests that don’t result in convictions may be seen by prospective employers, landlords, and neighbors.
Sealing a conviction record keeps the general public – including landlords and most employers – from seeing or accessing the record, but sealed records remain available to New York law enforcement officials, agencies that hire police officers or license gun owners, and the FBI.
Expunging a criminal conviction record completely destroys that record. It’s as if the conviction never happened. Unlike many states, and with extremely few exceptions, New York does not allow the expungement of criminal conviction records.
Who May Have a Criminal Conviction Sealed in New York?
Conviction records for these crimes cannot be sealed in New York:
- Most sex crimes
- Offenses defined as crimes of violence by state law (whether or not violence happened)
- Class A felonies and other felonies as specified by state law
To have your conviction record sealed in New York, you must satisfy these requirements:
- Ten years or more have passed since your sentencing or release (whichever was later).
- You do not have any subsequent arrests or convictions, and no charges are pending.
- You have not yet sealed all of the convictions that you are allowed by law to seal.
- You have a total of two convictions or fewer. No more than one may be for a felony.
If you have more than one felony conviction, or if you have a total of more than two convictions, you may not have a criminal conviction record sealed in this state.
How Do You Have a Conviction Record Sealed?
If you need to seal a conviction record, ask your attorney to file a request with the court where you were prosecuted and convicted. The details of your conviction and sentencing should accompany your request to have the record sealed.
Prosecutors may challenge requests to seal conviction records. When a request to seal a conviction record is filed with the court, a prosecutor has 45 days to inform the court that the request will be challenged. If there’s a challenge by the prosecutor, a hearing will be conducted.
At that hearing, your Nassau County criminal defense lawyer will help you show the court that your conviction should be sealed. If there is no challenge, a hearing may or may not be ordered by the judge, who will make the final decision to seal your conviction or to leave it unsealed.
What Will the Court Consider?
When a New York court decides whether or not to seal a criminal conviction record, these are the factors that are taken into consideration:
- the details and severity of your criminal offenses and convictions
- statements by the victim of the criminal offense you are seeking to seal
- the effect that sealing the conviction record may have on public safety
- your rehabilitation: counseling, employment, and community service, for example
- the effect that sealing your conviction record may have on your rehabilitation
- the length of time since your last criminal conviction
What Happens When a Conviction is Sealed?
If the court grants your request and your conviction is sealed, any evidence that remains from the case – such as fingerprints, arrest photos, or DNA samples – will then be destroyed. Only the following people may see a sealed conviction record:
- Any person you specifically designate
- If you seek work that requires you to carry a firearm, the prospective employer
- If you’re arrested while on parole or probation, your parole or probation officer
- If you’re arrested for a new offense, a police officer or prosecutor
Are There Alternatives to Sealing a Conviction?
If you do not meet the requirements for having a criminal conviction sealed in New York, you may have other options. If you have any number of misdemeanor convictions and one single felony conviction, you may seek a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities.
A Certificate of Relief from Disabilities does not seal a conviction record, but it removes barriers to employment for jobs like security guard, nurse, or real estate broker.
If you have two or more felony convictions, your only option for relief is to apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct. A Certificate of Good Conduct removes barriers to employment for positions that are considered public service – notary public or firefighter, for example.
What Else Should You Know About Sealing Convictions?
The general public has always had access to criminal conviction records, but with the emergence of the internet over the last three decades, it takes only a few seconds to check anyone’s background.
A Nassau County criminal defense attorney can determine if you meet the requirements to have a criminal conviction sealed or if you qualify instead for a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.
Your lawyer can prepare your request to the court and help you seal a conviction or obtain a relief or good conduct certificate. If your request is challenged by a prosecutor, your defense lawyer will fight aggressively for your best interests, your rights, and your future.