Causing Certain Criminal Convictions To Be Automatically Sealed (S.1553-B-Myrie/A.6399-A-Cruz)

Bill S.1553-B-Myrie/A.6399-A-Cruz would require that most felony and misdemeanor convictions be sealed within a certain time period following sentencing. Specifically, this bill would cause most felony convictions to be automatically sealed seven years following sentencing and would cause most misdemeanor convictions to be automatically sealed three years following sentencing, provided that a defendant (a) has no criminal charges pending; (b) is no longer on parole or probation; and (c) is not a registered sex offender. Records of a conviction that has been sealed pursuant to this legislation would be made available in nine situations, including background checks for potential law enforcement officers, background checks for gun license applicants, and other fingerprint-based background checks required by law. The provisions of this bill would apply not only to future convictions, but also to convictions handed down on or before the bill’s effective date. Finally, the legislation calls for the destruction of photographs, fingerprints, and court records pertaining to sealed convictions.

In addition to creating unnecessary paperwork and depriving law enforcement of useful data, Bill S.1553-B-Myrie/A.6399-A-Cruz would make it impossible for houses of worship, nonpublic schools, and faith-based nonprofits to obtain complete and accurate information when they request background checks on potential employees or volunteers. Such background checks could be rendered useless because they would be required to omit key information about an applicant’s criminal history. The sponsors of this bill recognize that even when a defendant has completed his or her sentence, information about that defendant’s criminal history is still relevant if that person applies for a firearm license or for a job as a law enforcement officer. Why, then, should a person’s complete criminal background not be made available if a person seeks to work or volunteer at a house of worship, a nonpublic school, or a faith-based nonprofit? When it comes to public safety, transparency is the best policy—especially where children and vulnerable persons are involved. The State Legislature should allow organizations to decide for themselves whether a person’s criminal history is relevant in the context of employment or volunteering.

Members of the Legislature are urged to oppose this bill. While well-intentioned, it fails to consider the potential consequences of its provisions.