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New York Sealing Law Update: September 2015

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Oklahoma’s Expungement laws changed dramatically in November 2012 and again in 2014, making it easier to completely seal and expunge the criminal cases of eligible ex-offenders.  As Co-Chair of the Sealing Committee of the New York State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, I am often asked why New York State has yet to move forward with enacting a broad law expunging records of deserving ex-offenders.  It’s a great question.  For a State which is often popularly regarded as being in the vanguard of progressive ideas, it is deeply disappointing to witness just how difficult it is to move the ball forward on such an important and necessary matter.  It is unfortunate that too many of our elected officials in Albany misperceive that permitting deserving ex-offenders to have a fresh start is being “soft on crime.”  They seem to lack the courage and political will to take a position which might possibly be construed as anything other than “law and order.”

Not long ago, I found myself in our State’s Capitol speaking with members of the State Senate about the currently pending sealing bills.  As I walked in for my scheduled appointment with one New York State Senator, he chided, “Oh, you’re here on behalf of the criminals.”  In response, I spent the next 20 minutes explaining to him how that was not at all why I was there, and that the people who desperately need second chances are not some sort of generic “criminals.”  They are men and women who made very limited, non-violent mistakes and are now saddled with criminal records that restrict their options for employment, education and housing.  It’s right to give these people a chance at redemption.  We all benefit when we get these folks back to playing a productive part in society.

Sealing low-level, non-violent criminal records will enhance our state’s economy, and every taxpayer will benefit when people are able to get off social services and get back on their feet to support themselves.   It may not happen tomorrow or even this term, but I remain strong in my belief in goodness within the human heart — and that’s both in the people who need second chances and in those in public office who need the courage and empathy to provide those chances.  Hopefully, 2016 will be a year for progress in Albany on this issue.

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