Governor Kathy Hochul addresses New Yorkers on Oct. 31, 2023.

Governor Kathy Hochul addresses New Yorkers on Oct. 31, 2023. Credit: Office of Governor Kathy Hochul/Susan Watts

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the “Clean Slate Act” Thursday, which would automatically seal the records of most convicted people after they have served their sentence and stayed out of trouble for certain periods of time.

Under the new law, the wait period before sealing a record will be three years after completing a sentence for a misdemeanor, eight for a felony.

The most serious type of felony — known as “class A,” which includes murder and other charges — would never be eligible for sealing. Nor would any sex or domestic terrorism crimes. Fields such as law enforcement and education would still have access to the records.

“You only get this if you’ve turned your life around,” Hochul said at a signing ceremony in Brooklyn. She said it would give people a chance to get a job “without having that scarlet letter on their foreheads that says, ‘I can’t work.’ ”

The measure was a win for advocacy groups, progressive Democrats and some labor and business groups that had been pushing for it for years. They said that it would give a “clean slate” to those who have paid their debt to society and that a past criminal conviction shouldn’t hamper attempts to secure jobs or housing.

Opponents — such as the statewide district attorneys’ association and Republicans in the State Legislature — contended the sealing of records shouldn’t be automatic and should include judicial oversight, among other things.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) said: "New York State already had processes in place for judges to seal criminal convictions … But without input from judges, victims or prosecutors, Albany Democrats took it upon themselves to hide vicious and violent crimes from background checks.”

The governor said New York has “lagged behind other states" — including conservative ones such as Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah — that have provided routes for sealing criminal records. Her office said New York becomes the 12th state with some version of "clean slate" legislation.

“They are showing it works,” Hochul said. “When you give people jobs, they don’t commit crimes.”

In contrast, State Sen. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore) said: "I do believe in second chances. But wiping away a criminal’s record clean is not a way to give them that chance. Instead, we should be working with them to provide rehabilitation services back into society."

Among the other complaints, critics said that while crimes such as murder aren't sealable, serious offenses such as attempted murder, manslaughter and certain degrees of kidnapping are going to be automatically sealed eight years after a sentence is served — and maybe shouldn't be, that maybe there should be a review mechanism.

 "I'm not saying there aren't instances where those cases should be sealed. But what I am saying is there are certainly going to be cases where they shouldn't be sealed," said Ray Tierney, Suffolk County district attorney. "Yet under this law, they will be sealed, and that concerns me."

Tierney noted the Hochul administration called him the night before the signing ceremony to discuss his concerns, such as how will the law impact domestic violence charges and orders of protection. And while Tierney said he appreciated the outreach, "I wish it had come sooner," while the new law was being hashed out in Albany. 

The law takes effect one year from Thursday. It gives the state Office of Court Administration up to three years from that date to implement the processes necessary to identify and seal all eligible records, according to the Hochul administration.

Some business groups that often align with Republicans on issues this time backed the Democrats. 

"Many of The Business Council's members have long supported second-chance initiatives committed to reducing barriers for the formerly incarcerated," the New York State Business Council said in a statement. "This bill allows our state’s economy to grow by giving people from historically marginalized communities a new opportunity and our employers, who are struggling to hire new talent, access to a larger pool of individuals ready to work."

 A top lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, which represents indigent clients, said the law will "make the justice system much more equitable."

 "Equitable because there have been demonstrated racial disparities within our criminal justice system that have been systemic and built in over the years," said Laurette Mulry, attorney-in-charge at the Suffolk County Legal Aid office. "This will go a long way to allowing people to have a true second chance."

Having a better shot at a job, Mulry said, will help "end the pernicious cycle of unemployment and disenfranchisement that really sets them (ex-convicts) up for recidivism."

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the “Clean Slate Act” Thursday, which would automatically seal the records of most convicted people after they have served their sentence and stayed out of trouble for certain periods of time.

Under the new law, the wait period before sealing a record will be three years after completing a sentence for a misdemeanor, eight for a felony.

The most serious type of felony — known as “class A,” which includes murder and other charges — would never be eligible for sealing. Nor would any sex or domestic terrorism crimes. Fields such as law enforcement and education would still have access to the records.

“You only get this if you’ve turned your life around,” Hochul said at a signing ceremony in Brooklyn. She said it would give people a chance to get a job “without having that scarlet letter on their foreheads that says, ‘I can’t work.’ ”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the “Clean Slate Act,” which would automatically seal the records of most convicted people after they have served their sentence and stayed out of trouble for certain periods of time.
  • The most serious type of felony — known as “class A,” which includes murder and other charges — would never be eligible for sealing. Nor would any sex or domestic terrorism crimes.
  • Opponents contended the sealing of records shouldn’t be automatic and should include judicial oversight, among other things.

The measure was a win for advocacy groups, progressive Democrats and some labor and business groups that had been pushing for it for years. They said that it would give a “clean slate” to those who have paid their debt to society and that a past criminal conviction shouldn’t hamper attempts to secure jobs or housing.

Opponents — such as the statewide district attorneys’ association and Republicans in the State Legislature — contended the sealing of records shouldn’t be automatic and should include judicial oversight, among other things.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) said: "New York State already had processes in place for judges to seal criminal convictions … But without input from judges, victims or prosecutors, Albany Democrats took it upon themselves to hide vicious and violent crimes from background checks.”

The governor said New York has “lagged behind other states" — including conservative ones such as Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah — that have provided routes for sealing criminal records. Her office said New York becomes the 12th state with some version of "clean slate" legislation.

“They are showing it works,” Hochul said. “When you give people jobs, they don’t commit crimes.”

In contrast, State Sen. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore) said: "I do believe in second chances. But wiping away a criminal’s record clean is not a way to give them that chance. Instead, we should be working with them to provide rehabilitation services back into society."

Among the other complaints, critics said that while crimes such as murder aren't sealable, serious offenses such as attempted murder, manslaughter and certain degrees of kidnapping are going to be automatically sealed eight years after a sentence is served — and maybe shouldn't be, that maybe there should be a review mechanism.

 "I'm not saying there aren't instances where those cases should be sealed. But what I am saying is there are certainly going to be cases where they shouldn't be sealed," said Ray Tierney, Suffolk County district attorney. "Yet under this law, they will be sealed, and that concerns me."

Tierney noted the Hochul administration called him the night before the signing ceremony to discuss his concerns, such as how will the law impact domestic violence charges and orders of protection. And while Tierney said he appreciated the outreach, "I wish it had come sooner," while the new law was being hashed out in Albany. 

The law takes effect one year from Thursday. It gives the state Office of Court Administration up to three years from that date to implement the processes necessary to identify and seal all eligible records, according to the Hochul administration.

Some business groups that often align with Republicans on issues this time backed the Democrats. 

"Many of The Business Council's members have long supported second-chance initiatives committed to reducing barriers for the formerly incarcerated," the New York State Business Council said in a statement. "This bill allows our state’s economy to grow by giving people from historically marginalized communities a new opportunity and our employers, who are struggling to hire new talent, access to a larger pool of individuals ready to work."

 A top lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, which represents indigent clients, said the law will "make the justice system much more equitable."

 "Equitable because there have been demonstrated racial disparities within our criminal justice system that have been systemic and built in over the years," said Laurette Mulry, attorney-in-charge at the Suffolk County Legal Aid office. "This will go a long way to allowing people to have a true second chance."

Having a better shot at a job, Mulry said, will help "end the pernicious cycle of unemployment and disenfranchisement that really sets them (ex-convicts) up for recidivism."

Latest videos

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME