(Christian Wade, The Center Square) — Over 2 billion criminal records could be sealed under a bill signed into law by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, which is expected to add to Republican claims that the state’s Democrats are too soft on crime.
The “clean slate” law, which goes into effect in one year, will allow ex-cons who’ve completed their sentences, parole, or probation to get criminal records sealed three years after they are sentenced for misdemeanors and seven years for felonies, so long as they haven’t been convicted of other offenses.
Sex crimes and major felonies, such as murder, will not be eligible for sealing, according to the Hochul administration.
Hochul signed the bill on Thursday and framed the issue largely in economic terms, saying it will “help New Yorkers access jobs and housing while allowing police, prosecutors and school officials to protect their communities.”
“The best crime-fighting tool is a good-paying job,” the governor said in a statement. “And as our state faces a worker shortage, with more than 450,000 job openings right now, this new law will help businesses find more workers who will help them grow, expand and thrive.”
Law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and defense attorneys can still access sealed convictions under certain conditions. So will private employers in industries where workers interact with children, the elderly and disabled individuals.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation will still be able to access those records. When someone is arrested by state or local police, their fingerprints and information are sent to the FBI for review. The agency creates a federal record of the charges.
More than 2 million New Yorkers have criminal convictions for convictions between 1980 and 2021, according to a study by John Jay College’s Data Collaborative for Justice.
New York is known for being particularly unforgiving when allowing people to get out from under the shadow of a conviction. Criminal records can haunt people long past their punishment, criminal justice advocates say, preventing them from getting jobs, housing or college.
The legislation authorizing the mass sealings was approved by lawmakers over the summer on a largely party-line vote, with Republicans voting against it.
Supporters of the changes, like Democratic House Speaker Carl Heastie, say the new law will give millions of New Yorkers who served their time “the opportunity to begin a new chapter of their lives – helping open the door to housing and employment opportunities previously closed to them.”
GOP lawmakers who opposed the measure argued that New York already has a law allowing people to request their criminal records be sealed and say it sends a bad message in a state struggling with crime.
“Make no mistake, we’re already a state of deserving, reasonable second chances. Judges have existing discretion to seal records,” said state Sen Jake Ashby, R-Castleton, in a statement. “During a time of rising antisemitism and bigoted violence, employers will be totally in the dark about many hate crimes and terrorism offenses.”
U.S. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., a former NYPD officer, said the state government should be focused on overhauling criminal justice laws, like cashless bail, which he says gives criminals a free pass.
“This is a continuation of the far-left policies and pro-criminal agenda of Gov. Hochul and the New York State Legislature,” D’Esposito told CNN on Friday. “People should have second chances, but there are better ways to handle it than sending a message to individuals who commit crimes if they check a few boxes it will be eliminated from their criminal record.”