New Conviction Sealing Law in New York, CPL 160.59 Can Seal up to Two Convictions

The New York Legislature has finally made it widely possible for people with up to two criminal convictions, including one felony conviction to seal those convictions.  Criminal Procedure Law Section 160.59 , which goes into effect in October, 2017, will permit thousands of people who have been suffering with New York criminal convictions to get those convictions sealed.  

As with everything in life, there are a few significant catches, however.  First, violent felony offenses (and some other offenses) may not be sealed under Section 160.59.  Second, a person with more than two convictions will not be eligible to have convictions sealed.  Third, there is a ten year waiting period before the motion to seal under Section 160.59 can be made.  Fourth, the records are sealed and not expunged.  That means that information about sealed convictions will be made available under limited circumstances to law enforcement.  Nevertheless, the new sealing law represents a major shift in policy in New York State.  The new law promises to provide much needed and justified relief to many people who have gone on to leave their mistakes behind them and are leading productive lives.

The path to sealing under Section 160.59, however, is not simple.  Getting convictions sealed will require much more than simply checking off a couple boxes and submitting a boiler plate form.  Sealing under the new law is not a matter of right, but is rather subject to the discretion of a judge (presumptively the same judge who sentenced the person seeking relief).  The new conviction sealing law requires that a complex, detailed, and thoughtfully prepared and argued motion be filed with the court and the prosecutor's office.  The prosecutor has the power to object to the motion and force the matter to a formal hearing in front the judge.  The judge has the power to require a hearing regardless.

The motion must address a number of factors specifically identified in the new conviction sealing law, including an inquiry into the underlying charges (if the case were settled with a plea bargain) which will require a detailed review of the old case, and possibly even the sentencing transcript.  The motion requires a sort of "this is your life" portion that is meant to explain to the judge why sealing would be appropriate in the case.  Several other factors must be considered as well.

The complexity and level of detail required by the new conviction sealing law mean that not only will it be important to obtain the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer, but that the lawyer who prepares and argues the motion should be intimately familiar with the specific court where the motion is to be made.  In a motion where the plea negotiations are a factor for the judge to consider, for example, it is vital to have a lawyer who understands the "market" in that particular court (because negotiations are different in every court).  This sort of a motion will highlight the value of local knowledge, and I would venture to say that a lawyer who is not a criminal defense lawyer or a lawyer who is unfamiliar with the court where the motion will be argued will be at a distinct disadvantage.

It will be vital to obtain the assistance of a lawyer to seal a conviction in New York.