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Old convictions will be automatically expunged from New Yorkers


Olga Derkach

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Old convictions could be automatically expunged from New Yorkers if they don't have problems for a certain number of years under a bill passed in the State Assembly on June 9. The edition told in more detail NBC New York.

The Clean Slate Act will automatically close the most recent convictions—three years after serving a sentence or parole for a misdemeanor and after eight years for felonies. Sexual offenses and most Class A felonies, such as murder, are not covered.

The state assembly debated the bill for nearly five hours. When it was adopted at the party vote, applause and exclamations of approval sounded in the session hall. Legislative leaders say the state Senate is expected to follow suit and pass it.

Some liberal lawmakers and unions backing the bill say it will give New Yorkers a path forward unburdened by past mistakes. They say a criminal record often means difficulty getting stable jobs and housing.

Such is the case with Long Island's Ismael Diaz Jr., who was released from prison seven years ago and is still struggling to find a stable job.

On the subject: How to Become a New York Police Officer: Personal Experience

Diaz, who served nearly 10 years in prison for manslaughter, said he went through three rounds of interviews for a supermarket janitor position before being told he was "incapacitated" because of his criminal record.

“I was stressed because I was trying to get a job but couldn’t because of my criminal record,” Diaz, 52, said. “I want to get paid, take care of my family and start building my life the way it should be.”

Other states, including Utah and Michigan, have taken similar steps. In 2022, California passed a law that will automatically close convictions and arrests for most former offenders who have not been convicted of another felony in four years.

Business groups, including majors such as JPMorgan Chase and Verizon, also supported the New York bill. They say the increase in the labor pool will boost the state's economy and make it more competitive.

Under New York State law, employers may request information about criminal records at any stage of the hiring process, but they must consider factors such as the impact a criminal record has on an individual's ability to perform a job. But proponents of the law say that despite this, those with criminal records face formidable barriers to stable employment.

Nearly 2,2 million people in New York City have criminal convictions, according to a study by Data Collaborative for Justice, a research center at John Jay College. The study is based on New Yorkers who had a criminal record from 1980 to 2021.

But Republican lawmakers and victim advocacy groups have criticized the law, warning that it will deprive those who committed the crimes of accountability.

“I am very sorry, but you have done this, you are convicted for this, and, unfortunately, you have a duty to society. Some aspects of this will be with you forever, just as you did with your victim, said Republican State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo. “I think it’s a complete disregard for the victims of these crimes and a disregard for society as a whole.”

Palumbo said he supports an existing law in New York whereby people can apply to have their convictions closed based on the type of conviction and whether they are repeat offenders. But proponents of the state's "clean slate" bill say the application process is cumbersome and expensive.

Less than 1% of New Yorkers eligible for a conviction closure under this law have successfully done so, according to a study by Santa Clara University.

Automatic closure will not apply to a person who has been charged with a felony in another state.

The State Department of Corrections and Community Oversight, in cooperation with the Division of Criminal Justice Services, will be tasked with providing data to state authorities.

These sealed convictions may later be made available to any court, prosecutors and defense attorneys under certain conditions, and to federal and state law enforcement agencies. Gun licensing agencies, law enforcement employers, and those working with vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly will still have access to this data.

The original version of the bill excluded only sexual offenses from automatic sealing and required seven years to elapse before a felony conviction could be dropped.

New York Gov. Kathy Hokul wants to make sure the bill doesn't have "any negative, unintended consequences" and also gives a second chance to those with a criminal record.

“This is not an easy decision. These are complex questions, much more complex than people might imagine at first glance,” Hokul said. "My goal as governor is to make sure we have visionary, progressive policies that really work."

The bill will enter into force one year after its signing.

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