New York City

New bill will seal records for minor crimes

October 7, 2019 Kelly Mena

Individuals convicted of a minor crime — such as low-level marijuana possession or a traffic infraction — will now have their records automatically sealed, following the passage of a new criminal justice bill. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed legislation that will create a default through which all records of petty offenses — with the exception of loitering and operating a motor vehicle while impaired — are sealed and made unavailable to any person or agency, unless a judge determines otherwise. 

Local law enforcement agencies began to inconsistently seal petty offenses starting in 1994, depending on whether the arrest carried a more serious charge. The inconsistency resulted in an unusual and unintended irregularity, where individuals charged with misdemeanors or felonies at times received more favorable treatment than those charged with petty offenses, according to the Governor’s Office. 

“For years, local law enforcement agencies were not consistent in how they chose to seal conviction records for petty offenses,” Cuomo said in a press release. “By signing this legislation, we can take a small step to greatly improve disparities in the criminal justice system.”

The signing of the bill comes just days after Brooklyn Assemblymember Joe Lentol, who leads the committee in the Assembly that reviews and evaluates all criminal justice legislation, urged Cuomo to sign the legislation without delay.

“The governor will certainly see the need to sign this bill into law and I urge him to do so. The system needs to be corrected,” Lentol said in a press release on Friday.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has already made sealing records for past low-level marijuana cases a top priority. The measure is in step with the recently passed state criminal justice reforms, which require prosecutors to turn over all evidence in criminal cases within 15 days of a defendant’s arraignment and disposes of cash bail in most misdemeanor and non-violent felony cases.

The legislation will take effect in 90 days, according to the Governor’s Office. 

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