What Is The New York Clean Slate Act?

What Is The New York Clean Slate Act?

Applying for a job is never an easy task. You’ve put together your resume. You’ve lined up all your references. And you’ve spent hours on all the different job search engines like Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster and ZipRecruiter. After all that hard work, you find that one position that matches your credentials. You hit apply, only to find out one major catch: You have a record as a convicted felon, and this employer performs a criminal background check on all applicants. 

Many employers do not want someone with a criminal record working for their company. This holds true even if nothing about the work involved would specifically prohibit someone from working in that field with a felony or misdemeanor conviction on their record. Even if you have never spent a day in prison, you may still find it difficult to get a job.

Making things even more difficult is the easy availability of criminal background checks. Everything about a person’s issues with the criminal justice system is only a click away. And there are few employers who don’t require a criminal background check as a condition of employment.

But a group of New York State Senators and Assembly Members have banded together to introduce a piece of legislation known as the Clean Slate Act. The goal of the proposed law is simple: It authorizes the “automatic sealing of certain convictions….” These bills, combined with several other proposals from last year, could pave the way for criminal justice reform across the country in 2022.

What does the New York Clean Slate Act do?

The two New York bills (Senate Bill 1553C and Assembly Bill 6399B) proposing the Clean Slate Act are identical. So, you need only read one version to get an understanding for the how the Clean Slate Act will operate when and if New York lawmakers enact it. 

Basically, most convictions for felonies, misdemeanors and traffic violations will be sealed after a certain amount of time, depending on the level of conviction. This means that a justice-impacted person does not have to take any action to get it sealed under the Act.

For example, imagine I received a ticket for excessive speeding and either pled guilty or were found to be guilty. The record of my traffic violation would be automatically sealed after three years. Similarly, if I pled guilty to or were convicted of a misdemeanor, my record would be sealed after three years.

However, with a felony conviction, Clean Slate Act relief isn’t available until after seven years. So, if state law classifies your crime as a felony, you must wait an extra four years for automatic sealing. That’s true even if you didn’t serve prison time. This is an interesting point, as some people convicted of misdemeanors end up serving time. But there are also those convicted of felonies in New York who never spend a day in jail.

As of now, New Yorkers can only ask a court to seal a record. However, you have to wait ten years from the date of conviction to file your petition. In addition, you cannot apply for relief if you have more than one felony or two misdemeanors on your record. The only conviction records that are automatically sealed are for crimes committed by children under the age of 18.

Image courtesy of Green Chameleon via Unsplash.

What does “sealing” mean?

Except for certain marijuana convictions, New York State does not expunge records. Instead, every conviction is still technically on your record. Sealing the record means that the public cannot find your conviction except in certain circumstances. The court will also destroy or return to you all fingerprint and palmprint cards, booking photos and DNA samples. 

If New York’s legislators enact the Clean Slate Act, most prospective employers won’t see your misdemeanor or felony conviction after the necessary passage of time. The only exception are ones that involve employment in law enforcement, require the use of a gun or must do a criminal background check on a prospective employee under New York State law.

In addition, people could still access sealed records and use them in subsequent criminal cases. The same is true for criminal background checks for the purpose of obtaining a firearm.

Are there limitations to the New York Clean Slate Act?

Relief under New York’s Clean Slate Act is not a full expungement or pardon. For one thing, the record of the conviction exists. In addition, it will only cover convictions in New York State. So, if your felony or misdemeanor conviction occurred in another state or in a federal court, you can’t get relief under the Clean Slate Act. This is the case even if the federal court is located in New York. 

The Act also does not cover any sex offenses. This appears to be an effort on the part of the Clean Slate Act’s drafters to make it comply with the New York State Sex Offender Registry (also known as Megan’s Law). Nevertheless, nothing in the Act prevents someone convicted of a sex offense from applying for sealing of the conviction record ten years later.

Automatic sealing of the conviction record will not take place if a person is currently in government custody or under the supervision of a probation or parole department. Similarly, the Act will not automatically seal the record of someone currently facing criminal charges.

Finally, the New York Corrections Department will still be able to list the conviction record on a website for up to three years after the person’s term of incarceration has ended. This is a change from the current law, which allows such disclosure for up to five years.

Image courtesy of Roger Lipera via Unsplash.

What does this mean for you?

If you have a felony or a misdemeanor conviction in New York, then the Clean Slate Act would automatically seal your conviction after the passage of the requisite period of time.

It is not a perfect proposal, as certain employers would still be able to see these sealed prior convictions in a criminal background check. However, it would go a long way to allowing you to get gainful employment as it would shield this information from prospective employers who don’t fall into one of the categories specified in the Act.

In addition, as one of the largest states, New York often sets trends for the rest of the country, including in legislative matters like criminal justice reform. If the New York State Assembly and Senate can pass the Clean Slate Act and get Governor Kathy Hochul to sign it, then it could help spark a larger trend toward similar laws in other states and possibly even the federal government.

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