If you have been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime, your criminal record can pose problems when you want to buy or rent a home, get a new job, or apply for a loan. But in New York, under certain circumstances, you can erase or expunge your criminal record through a process called “sealing” (the process is called “expungement” in some states).
What Is Record Sealing?
In New York, people who have been arrested or convicted of certain crimes can clean up their criminal records by having them sealed. To have your criminal record sealed means that the information is treated as confidential, although the records are not physically destroyed.
After your criminal record is sealed, in most cases only you or your lawyer will have access to it. However, there are some instances in which your records may be shared. For example, if you’re applying for a job that requires you to carry a gun, a background check will reveal all of your criminal convictions—even sealed ones. But in most cases you are legally allowed to state that you were not arrested or convicted of a crime.
Who Is Eligible to Have an Arrest or Conviction Record Sealed?
Arrest records. You may have your arrest record sealed if your case was terminated in your favor. You are eligible if, for example:
- the charges against you were dismissed, dropped, or vacated
- you were acquitted at trial, or
- your conviction was set aside.
These records are typically sealed automatically at the conclusion of your case, unless the prosecutor persuades the court—or the court determines on its own—that your record should not be sealed. (New York Criminal Procedure Law § 160.50 (2018).)
Noncriminal offenses. Convictions for many noncriminal offenses—such as traffic infractions or disorderly conduct violations—can be sealed. These records are usually sealed automatically once your case is terminated. However, convictions for some noncriminal offenses, including prostitution and driving while intoxicated, are ineligible for sealing. (New York Criminal Procedure Law § 160.55 (2018).)
Drug convictions. Records for many, but not all, drug crimes can be sealed if you successfully complete an approved treatment or judicial diversion program. However, the law does not apply to defendants who have successfully completed a court-mandated drug diversion program and have had their cases dismissed. (New York Criminal Procedure Law §§ 160.58, 160.50 (2018); People v Batista, 43 N.Y.S.3d 692 (2016).)
Other misdemeanor and felony convictions. If you have been convicted of no more than two misdemeanors or no more than one felony and one misdemeanor, your record may be sealed. To be eligible, you must wait ten years after your sentence was imposed or, if you were incarcerated, ten years after you were last released. Some convictions, including those for most sex offenses, all violent felonies, and all Class A felonies, can never be sealed. (New York Criminal Procedure Law § 160.59 (2018).)
How to File for Sealing
If you wish to seal an eligible criminal record that is not automatically sealed at the termination of your case, you may petition the court to seal your record. You must file the application with the court where you were convicted for the most serious offense you wish to seal, or with the court where you were last convicted if all the offenses you wish to seal are of the same class. You can find the required forms and other helpful information on the New York State Unified Court System website.
Contact an Attorney
Cleaning up a criminal record can be complicated, and the laws and procedures can change at any time. Contact an experienced criminal law attorney to find out if your criminal record is eligible for sealing and for help with the sealing process.