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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in New York

Criminal records in New York can have a permanent negative effect that can hinder a person's chances of gaining employment, pursuing higher education, or aspiring for political positions. With the stigma attached to having a rap sheet, sealing or expungement of criminal records is a safety option where the general public can not view the files. The New York state law does not permit expungement of criminal records (except in some instances) but allows sealing. According to the New York state law CPL 160.59, persons with no more than two misdemeanors or one felony and one misdemeanor conviction, and has not committed any crime in the last ten years, can request for record sealing.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

When a criminal record is sealed, such documents are inaccessible to the public. The sealing of a record ensures that nobody can view the criminal record without a court order. Expunction, on the other hand, involves the complete removal or destruction of a criminal record from public view. In New York, criminal records can only be sealed and not expunged except in marijuana cases, where such records are deleted instantly. Approval for the sealing of certain convictions is possible under specific conditions, as provided by Section 160.59 of the Laws of New York.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How to Seal a Criminal Record in New York

In New York, certain offenses are granted automatic sealing after a while. Nevertheless, the new law CPL 160.59 passed in 2017 on criminal convictions, allows individuals to be able to seal their criminal records from the public if they are eligible. Generally, classes of records that can be sealed in New York are drug crimes, theft, public intoxication, arrest records, and noncriminal records. To qualify for the sealing process, interested persons must:

  • Not be a sex offender
  • Have no more than two offenses, of which only one can be a felony
  • Not have committed any crime for a minimum of 10 years since last conviction

Procedures Involved in Sealing a Criminal Record in New York:

  • Complete the sealing application form and attach any required supporting documentation. These include a Certificate of Disposition for the convictions, sworn statements about the motive behind record sealing, and evidence of rehabilitation. The appropriate fee of $10 must also be paid to the court involved.
  • Submit the completed application to the court that presided over the criminal case. Requests must be addressed to the judge who treated the case or the judge of the court involved, where the former presiding judge had been transferred. 
  • Make a copy of the application and the attached documents, and submit them to the office of the County District Attorney (DA). If the DA challenges the application, the applicant must notify the court within 45 days. The judge may then require a hearing.
  • During the hearing, the applicant has to provide more convincing evidence with the aid of an attorney on reasons for sealing the records.
  • The ruling by the judge may come in the form of rejection or approval. If the sealing application is approved, the applicant will receive a court-signed seal order. Request for CPL 160.59 Seal Verification Form can also be used to confirm if a person's criminal history record has been updated.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in New York

In New York, only certain marijuana cases can be expunged, while other criminal activities are allowed to be sealed from public access. Marijuana crimes eligible for expungement include:

  • Criminal possession of marijuana in the 5th degree according to PL 221.10
  • Unlawful possession of marijuana in the 1st degree or unlawful possession of marijuana in the 2nd degree, under PL 221.05

How to Expunge Criminal Records in New York

To expunge a criminal record means that the arrest, court case & trial, and the verdict on the charges are erased. Therefore, the crime or charge will not be found on any criminal history record search, can't be accessed by law enforcement agencies, and may not be listed when asked about past convictions or arrests. In New York, the expungement of criminal records is only permitted for some marijuana cases, and the files for these marijuana crimes are typically expunged automatically. Other criminal records are sealed, that is, the documents of the charge or crime still exist, but personal information like fingerprint cards, mugshot, and DNA samples collected are destroyed or returned to the owner.

Do Sealed Records Show up In New York Background Checks?

Yes, sealed records show up in New york background checks. Although a sealed criminal record in New York is withdrawn from public access, it can show up in background checks as provided by CPL 160.59 for some instances, such as a job application that requires the individual to carry a firearm. Sealed records can also be seen in background checks by law enforcement agencies when a request is submitted. However, if records that are supposed to be sealed come up in a regular criminal records search, the individual may go to the court where the case was heard, and request a Certificate of Disposition by completing an application. If the Certificate of Disposition says that the case is sealed, send the original certificate, along with the filled form to the court where the case was heard, asking to correct the mistake.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in New York

When a criminal record is sealed in New York, certain people can still be accessed once the necessary conditions are met. The necessary information includes:

  • The defendant with valid government-issued identification
  • An individual authorized by the defendant with a submitted request and proper identification
  • The State Parole Officer on duty when the defendant was arrested
  • An employer when the job requires the defendant to carry a gun
  • A prosecutor when the defendant moves a motion for an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal on a marijuana charge
  • Law enforcement agencies with approved requests

How to Obtain Sealed Records in New York

Eligible persons will have to confirm first if the record of interest is sealed at the Division of Criminal Justice Services, and will be required to fill a request form to aid the verification process. Once it is confirmed that the record is sealed, interested individuals will have to schedule an appointment to get their fingerprints taken. Other prerequisites include showing a form of valid identification and paying the appropriate fees of $13.75 in the form of a check or money order. After the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services accepts the record request, processing the sealed records takes 7 to 10 business days.

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