For better or worse, the fact is that in the state of New York, you cannot expunge your criminal record. A record that is "expunged" is permanently erased. However, you can "seal" your criminal record in New York, which means it will become invisible to the public. The most obvious benefit of sealing your record is that it will be removed from the rap sheet sent to employers, and your fingerprints, palm prints and mug shots will all be destroyed.
Benefits of Sealing a Record
A sealed record is not an erased record, and it can still be viewed by specific people under the right circumstances, namely:
- You, if you get a copy of your own rap sheet;
- Any agency you apply to for a gun license;
- Your employer, if you apply to work as a law enforcement or a peace officer;
- Your employer, if you apply for a job that requires you to carry a gun;
- The military, if you apply to enlist;
- Your Parole or Probation Officer, if you are arrested while on parole or probation;
- Prosecutors and other law enforcement officials, if they show a court that "justice requires" them to have the information;
- Sealed convictions for violations, such as disorderly conduct, are available to anyone who goes to the court where the conviction occurred.
What Cases Can I Seal
You can seal juvenile delinquencies, or acts that would be criminal convictions if you were over the age of 16. However, if you were more than 13 years old and were tried as a "juvenile offender" for a serious crime, the record is treated as if you were an adult.
You can seal any case against you where there was no conviction under New York CPL 160.50. These cases have been sealed automatically since 1991, so unless you have a very old conviction, you don't need to take any action.
You can seal non-criminal "violation" offenses, which are typically low-level acts like loitering or trespassing. Please note that you cannot seal some serious violations, such as driving while impaired (DWI) or loitering in a sexually deviant manner. These offenses are normally sealed one year after the conviction, unless the conviction was before 1991.
You can seal possession of less than 7/8 of an ounce of marijuana three years after the conviction. Like other types, convictions after 1991 are sealed automatically after three years.
Finally, since October 2009 judges may conditionally seal felonies and misdemeanors under New York CPL 160.55 in the following very limited circumstances:
- You completed a court-mandated alcohol or drug treatment program, AND
- You completed any other sentence imposed following the completion of treatment, AND
- You have no pending charges.
How to Seal Your Record
As you can tell, most criminal records are automatically sealed after the appropriate time limit has passed. But better safe than sorry; try obtaining a copy of your rap sheet to be sure. You can request a copy from the Division of Criminal Justice Services online.
If there are offenses on your rap sheet you'd like sealed, you'll have to file a motion with the court. Contact the clerk's office of the court where the charge was filed and prosecuted. Fill out the petition to seal records form, and feel free to ask the clerk for assistance. Case and arrest details, as well as proof of completion of any required rehabilitation program, must be provided.
If the court approves your petition, it will be entered into the record and the clerk will inform you. All records will be sealed at this time. If the court challenges your petition, you may need to provide more information, go to court, and offer greater detail and proof that your records should be sealed.
What If I Can't Seal My Record
Even if you criminal record cannot be sealed, you can take some steps to increase your chances of finding and keeping a job. You may want to obtain a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct. Follow this step-by-step guide for how to obtain these certificates.
Questions About How to Expunge a Criminal Record in New York? Ask an Attorney
Getting a record sealed involves meeting very specific court requirements and convincing multiple authorities to support your request. If you're looking to expunge your criminal record in New York, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney who can help guide you through the process and provide important insights into your case and its potential issues.