By David Brand
The number of people who have had their convictions sealed in Queens based on a 2017 state law has more than doubled since August, but the amount of applicants has lagged far behind initial projections — a problem that the Legal Aid Society and State Sen. Leroy Comrie are taking steps to remedy.
At least 52 Queens residents have had their records sealed since the law was introduced last year, according to data compiled by the Queens District Attorney’s office. In total, there have been 66 decisions made on conviction-sealing applications in Queens. In addition to the 52 granted applications, 13 were denied and 1 was dismissed.
Twelve of the denials were based on ineligibility and one was denied “on merits.” A spokesperson for the DA’s office said the numbers may be incomplete because of a “lag in receiving the data.”
The 2017 state record-sealing law enables New Yorkers with certain criminal convictions to get their records sealed, but while hundreds of thousands of people may qualify, only a few hundred have benefited statewide.
The law specifically enables New Yorkers with no more than two misdemeanor convictions or one felony and one misdemeanor conviction to have their convictions sealed if they have remained crime-free for ten years. Sex offenses, violent felonies, and serious felonies are not eligible for sealing.
In recent months, Legal Aid has partnered with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and other local elected officials to raise awareness about the law. At the events, attorneys also counsel potential applicants as well as individuals who may qualify for other legal remedies, said Legal Aid attorney Emma Goodman, who has led the conviction-sealing initiative.
“I have been working with elected officials from all five boroughs in an effort to reach people where they live and work,” Goodman said. “I have reached out to every elected official with information and have met with many to educate staff members about the law and provide resources.”
Sealing convictions can have a major impact on an individual’s ability to get a job or a home, but stigma and potential adverse consequences can make people feel uncomfortable discussing their criminal history, Goodman said.
“Speaking about your criminal record can be difficult, and through collaboration with our social work department we try to create a safe and comfortable space to address the past,” she said. “‘Case Closed’ is working to guide people through the process in a way that brings closure to the emotional scars of criminal involvement as well as closure of their public record.”
Last night, Comrie became the latest local lawmaker to partner with Legal Aid when he sponsored a “Case Closed” event at Grace Gospel Tabernacle in Springfield Gardens. Goodman praised Comrie’s presence in the community and said she plans to organize similar series in other parts of Queens.
“Senator Comrie is an excellent partner in these efforts because he has an office in his community where he provides information and assistance to his constituents,” Goodman said. “I am developing relationships with other elected officials to conduct similar, two-part outreach events in the future.”