When then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) in March 2021, recreational marijuana use became legal for those 21 years old and older. While some celebrate the expansion of legal medical marijuana (legal in New York since 2014), more than 100,000 New Yorkers are happy about a specific provision in the new law: Their previous marijuana convictions can be expunged, not just sealed, from their criminal records.
Automatic Purge of Marijuana Convictions
According to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, more than 100,000 previous convictions will be automatically sealed.
Convictions that have been suppressed include the following:
- PL 221.05 Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in the Second Degree
- PL 221.10 Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in the First Degree
- PL 221.15 Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fourth Degree
- PL 221.20 Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Third Degree
- PL 221.35 Criminal Sale of Marijuana in the Fifth Degree
- PL 221.40 Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fourth Degree
To destroy or expunge your record, you must submit an application. The application is a formality and, unless there are extenuating circumstances, the conviction and associated records will be destroyed.
Any of the above previous crimes are eligible for expungement as well as the following:
- PL 222.10 Restrictions on Cannabis Use
- PL 222.15 Personal Cultivation and Home Possession of Cannabis
- PL 222.25 Unlawful Possession of Cannabis
- PL 222.45 Unlawful Sale of Cannabis
- PL 240.36 Loitering in the First Degree, but only if the court can determine that concentrated cannabis (hashish) was the only controlled substance involved
- PL 220.03 Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree, but only if the court can determine that concentrated cannabis (hashish) was the only controlled substance involved
- PL 220.06 Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Fifth Degree, but only if the court can determine that concentrated cannabis (hashish) was the only controlled substance involved
Keep in mind that there is no magic button that erases the convictions. The law gives the Office of Court Administration two years to expunge the records.
Record Expungement vs. Record Sealing
For most crimes in the Empire State, record sealing – not expungement – is the only possibility. In an expungement, the record related to that expunged crime is completely erased and the record is destroyed. Expungement is much like the crime never happened.
In record sealing, the record of the crime is not destroyed but rather it cannot be viewed by the public, police, or prosecutors. The only people who can see your sealed record are a prospective employer if the job involves carrying a firearm, a parole officer if you are arrested while on parole, and a pistol permit licensing officer when you apply for a pistol permit. A judge can also sign a court order making it visible to law enforcement or a prosecutor if a new crime is related to the sealed crime.
Not All Crimes Are Eligible for Record Sealing
For many years, record sealing was limited to only a few crimes and circumstances. A 2017 law expanded the crimes eligible for record sealing. In most circumstances, only two convictions can be sealed and only one of them can be a felony.
Many convictions still cannot be sealed including the following:
- Crimes that require sex offender registration
- Class A felonies (the most serious under New York law)
- Many crimes are categorized as violent crimes
- Other specific felonies defined in the statute
The court must be petitioned for eligible crimes to be sealed. The judge has discretion on whether to seal the record (except for those specifically outlined in MRTA), but there are some basic requirements.
- 10 years or more have passed since the conviction or release from prison (whichever is later)
- No current or pending criminal charges
- No recent criminal convictions
- Two or fewer convictions on the criminal record
Hire Attorneys with Experience in Record Sealing
A conviction that shows up on a background check can keep you from getting a job, obtaining housing, having the ability to own a firearm, and other penalties that can continue long after the commission of the crime. Our attorneys at Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC believe in fighting for our clients to get a second chance through sealing criminal convictions.
If you have a crime on your record that you believe is eligible for sealing, contact us for a case evaluation. Call us at (516) 243-8255 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation.