On November 16, 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Clean Slate Act into law.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms opposed the Clean Slate Act. This law will cause most felony convictions to be automatically sealed eight years after a defendant has been released from incarceration. Furthermore, it will cause most misdemeanor convictions to be automatically sealed three years after a defendant has been released from incarceration (or, if a misdemeanor defendant was not incarcerated, three years following the imposition of his or her sentence). The automatic sealing provisions of the Clean Slate Act will not apply to defendants who have criminal charges pending, who are on parole or probation, or who have been convicted of sex offenses or of most Class A felonies. The law will go into effect in one year.
Regarding New Yorkers with criminal records, Gov. Hochul commented: “‘They’ve paid their debt to society. They’ve gone through the process. They did their time. They’re done. But when they reenter society, there are still barriers to housing and jobs. I say no more. We’re here today to correct that injustice.’”
Unfortunately, in their effort to correct an injustice, the Legislature and the Governor have created new injustices. There are 17 exceptions to the sealing requirements set forth in the Clean Slate Act. In other words, there are 17 situations in which people who request a criminal background check will receive the complete truth about a person’s record. Clearly, the legislators who crafted this law believe that some New Yorkers—but not others—are important enough to be told the truth. Also, Section Four of the proposed legislation explicitly allows defendants to lie on applications that request information about aspects of their criminal histories that have been sealed.
According to the Associated Press, other states such as California, New Jersey, and Michigan have passed their own versions of the Clean Slate Act in recent years.
Republican members of the State Legislature spoke against the signing of the Clean Slate Act. Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) commented, “‘For a Governor who claims that her number one priority is protecting the people of New York, she sure has a funny way of showing it. We all believe in second chances, but unilaterally sealing criminal records is hardly the way to go about it. The bill prioritizes those who have broken the law while once again disregarding the victims impacted by their actions.’”
“‘Make no mistake, we’re already a state of deserving, reasonable second chances. Judges have existing discretion to seal records,’” added Sen. Jake Ashby (R-Castleton). “‘During a time of rising antisemitism and bigoted violence, employers will be totally in the dark about many hate crimes.’”
As a Christian organization, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms believes in repentance, forgiveness, and second chances. However, when a person has committed a crime, a prospective employer or landlord should know that so that they can ask the right questions to find out whether that person has truly changed his ways. The Clean Slate Act deprives prospective employers and landlords of that opportunity, and that is wrong.