A new New York law will allow thousands of ex-convicts to seal records of old criminal convictions, the Wall Street Journal reports. Advocates hope it doesn’t fizzle like a similar but seldom-used statute from 2009. The law, which takes effect Saturday, is intended to remove an obstacle that could prevent some people with nonviolent criminal convictions from getting a job, housing or financial aid for college. “This law aims to give people the opportunity to overcome the stigma of a criminal conviction,” said Kate Wagner-Goldstein of the Legal Action Center. The law will let New Yorkers ask courts to seal up to two convictions, including one felony, for crimes other than sex offenses and violent felonies, starting 10 years after their sentencing date or release from prison. District attorneys will have 45 days to object to the application. Sealed records won’t be visible to most employers or landlords, but will be available to law enforcement and child-protective services, and can be considered in future criminal cases.
A growing number of states—as many as 20—have laws allowing for sealing or expunging criminal records, said Judy Whiting of the Community Service Society. Efforts to prevent arrests or convictions from handicapping some people have accelerated in recent years. The focus also has included preventing employers from asking job applicants about their criminal histories. President Obama ordered federal agencies in 2015 to stop asking job applicants questions about their criminal backgrounds. New York state has 2.3 million people with criminal convictions. While the new law could affect tens of thousands of people, Wagner-Goldstein said she is concerned it might meet the fate of a previous conviction-sealing law that never lived up to its potential. The 2009 law, which applied only to certain drug offenses, resulted in sealing in only 52 instances in New York City and under 500 statewide.