As seen in the Queens Courier: New state law will help Queens woman get a fresh start after high school drug conviction

Queens resident Jane Smith* got in trouble with the law while in high school, and the episode ultimately altered the course of her life. Now, she’s hoping a new state law will help set her back on track.

Approximately 15 years ago, Smith was at a local bar when she attempted to sell drugs as “a favor for a friend.” She was charged with a felony and served a 30-day jail sentence. (* Editor’s note: The woman’s real name has been changed to protect her identity.)

“I was young,” she said. “I wasn’t really hanging out with the right people and I certainly made a mistake, which backfired pretty seriously on me.”

Soon after, Smith attended college and was deciding between becoming a nurse or a teacher. But she quickly found out that her felony charge would bar her from pursuing those careers.

“At that juncture I started to think about what I really want to be,” she said. “I started to disclose the fact that I had a felony and everyone in the teaching department said, ‘I really don’t think this is an appropriate field for you.’ Every single person with authority that I asked if teaching or nursing was for me, they said, ‘Don’t even bother.’”

Unlike other states, New York made it impossible for those convicted of a felony to seal or expunge their records. A criminal conviction would remained on a person’s record for life and would appear on civil background checks.

Rick Collins, a founding partner at Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry, has worked for more than a decade to change New York state law to enable “people to have a shot at redemption.”

Collins worked as both an assistant district attorney in the Nassau County’s District Attorney’s office and criminal defense before opening a private firm.

Working in both sides of the courtroom gave Collins a different perspective, he said.

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