Feb. 1, 2019 Staff Report
Assemblymember Aravella Simotas announced yesterday that she is introducing legislation to correct a shortcoming in the record sealing law enacted last year as part of New York’s Raise the Age reforms.
While the law currently allows individuals to apply to have a felony conviction sealed if a judge granted them “youthful offender” status, those who did not receive that status are left behind.
New York law has historically provided judges with the discretion at sentencing time to grant 16, 17 and 18-year-olds with “youthful offender status,” which gave them a chance to have no criminal record even for a felony.
The state, until Raise the Age was signed into law, used to automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, and a judge would decide whether “youthful offender” status should apply at sentencing. The Raise the Age legislation upped the age of an adult to 18.
The Simotas bill would amend the New York State Criminal Procedure Law to allow past offenders who have stayed out of trouble for ten years, to apply for conviction sealing if they were eligible for, but did not receive youthful offender status when they were sentenced.
“Expanding eligibility for conviction sealing will give people who committed crimes in their youth the chance to become full members of society in adulthood. If someone has stayed out of trouble for 10 years, I think they should be granted the chance to move beyond the burden of a criminal record,” said Simotas said.
Simotas said she became aware of the lapse in the law after state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Zayas, the administrative judge for the criminal term in Queens Supreme Court was interviewed by the New York Law Journal about a Dec. 12, 2018 decision he issued, reluctantly denying the sealing request of a 50-year-old woman identified as Jane Doe who had been convicted of attempted second degree robbery when she was 16 years old.
Doe was eligible to receive youthful offender treatment, but did not receive it. Doe completed her sentence of five years’ probation in 1988 and stayed out of trouble ever since. In his decision, Justice Zayas noted that he was constrained by current law and forced to deny Doe’s request to have her conviction sealed, an outcome he said was “inconsistent with the laudable goals of the sealing statute.”