What You Need to Know About Sealing a Conviction in New York

March 2, 2018

I get a lot of phone calls from people interested in sealing NY convictions from years ago that are still affecting their lives. Unfortunately, as much as I wish I could help everyone, a lot of the callers are not eligible to have their convictions sealed. While they may qualify in all other respects (they are seeking to seal an eligible offense and more than ten years have elapsed since the conviction or release from incarceration), they simply have too many convictions on their record.

To be eligible, in addition to the other conditions you cannot have more than two (2) convictions on your lifetime criminal record, and only one of those can be a felony.

I did a quick internet search on this relatively new legislation (NY CPL Sec. 160.59, October 7, 2017) and I read most of the articles posted by various legal agencies and attorneys, and it’s concerning to see how many of them inaccurately state the law by just ignoring or misunderstanding that condition.  By doing that, most articles make it sound as though it doesn’t matter how many total convictions you have, you can still pick and choose the two you want to seal.

My concern here is that people will hire these attorneys, who will gladly accept their fee and do the work – probably even exceptional work, only to have the application ultimately denied, wasting the clients time and money when it should have been understood from the beginning that the application was going to fail. I don’t mean to suggest that these attorneys are accepting a fee with the outright knowledge that the application will be unsuccessful; I presume it’s just a matter of misunderstanding the new legislation, which can and does happen when new laws are first enacted. But that’s small comfort for the client who had high hopes, probably paid a decent fee to the attorney, and is now lighter in the wallet with nothing to show for it.

The language of the legislation is very clear:  A DEFENDANT WHO HAS BEEN CONVICTED OF UP TO TWO ELIGIBLE OFFENSES BUT NOT MORE THAN ONE FELONY OFFENSE MAY APPLY TO THE COURT IN WHICH HE OR SHE WAS CONVICTED OF THE MOST SERIOUS OFFENSE TO HAVE SUCH CONVICTION SEALED.

“Up to two eligible offenses.” Two. Period.

There is an “exception” to this rule in cases where a person was convicted of multiple offenses out of the same incident. In that situation, you may still be eligible to apply for sealing because the court has discretion to treat the multiple convictions as one conviction for sealing purposes. But other than that, you are only eligible for sealing if you have no more than two criminal convictions on your lifetime criminal record.

So be wary of anyone who tells you only that you can seal up to two convictions, regardless of your entire history. From a practical standpoint, what sense would that even make? If someone has an extensive criminal history, what would the value be in sealing only one or two convictions? The intent of the legislation is to benefit those who made a mistake a long time ago, who have paid their debt to society, have been respectable citizens for at least a decade, but whose conviction is still interfering with a productive life. It is not an opportunity for the career criminal to shorten the rap sheet. And not all convictions qualify. There is a long list of violent, non-violent and sex related felonies that are ineligible for sealing.

Keep in mind that even if you are not eligible to seal your convictions, you may still be eligible for other less significant forms of relief (i.e., a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct).

If you would like more information about sealing convictions, to see if you’re eligible, or to discuss one of the other forms of relief, call Carpenter Law at (945) 493-1002, or emailtodd@carpenterlawny.com.