It’s a common story: a decent, hardworking young man has a momentary lapse of good judgment and is caught and charged with driving while intoxicated. The young man goes on to serve the sentence imposed on him. Often the young man then finishes college, obtains a degree and seeks employment in a field for which he is academically and intellectually qualified. His potential employer does a quick background check and discovers the young man’s criminal conviction for driving while intoxicated. Do you think the employer will hire the young man with a criminal record, even if the conviction was for a misdemeanor committed many years before? Would you hire him if he applied at your office?
What if the criminal conviction was many years ago, and since then the individual has led an exemplary life? Notwithstanding the conviction, he has managed to make something of his life, and yet that conviction follows him like a shadow, haunting him and making it difficult for him to get a job.
This situation is all too common, and the penalty for one momentary lapse of good judgment is too severe. Fortunately, there is growing support to improve this situation, which is finally being perceived as a real problem, by the New York State Legislature. There are two bills pending in the State Legislature, and support is growing, for a new law to allow the sealing of criminal conviction records. If enacted into law, these proposals would allow otherwise law-abiding citizens, who have certain criminal convictions in their past, to seal those criminal records.
The purpose of these two pending bills is the same: both bills aim to improve the chances for employment by making past criminal records unavailable to private persons or private employers. It is the view of the sponsors of the bills that past criminal convictions should not be so readily accessible or available to employers who might then be inclined to deny employment to a person on the basis of these past criminal convictions.
The sponsors of the bills lament that despite reformation of the convict and despite the fact that he has not committed any further criminal acts, records of past convictions still hamper career opportunities for an individual who has duly paid his debt to society and has become a productive and law-abiding citizen. These bills, we hope, will remedy that problem.
At the root of these proposed bills is the question: how long should the punishment last? Shouldn’t the sting and humiliation of these convictions be lifted for those individuals who have already been duly punished for the crime, have paid their debt to society, and who have subsequently led a life of honor and decency?
Under appropriate circumstances, criminal convictions should be sealed. This law in New York is long overdue. We hope that the Legislature acts quickly and enacts a new law to permit the sealing of criminal convictions.