Simotas to introduce legislation to improve “Raise the Age” criminal record sealing law

Photo-Assemblymember Aravella Simotas
Courtesy of Simotas’ office

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas announced she is introducing legislation to correct a shortcoming in the record sealing law enacted last year as part of New York’s Raise the Age reforms. While the law currently allows individuals to apply to have a felony conviction sealed if a judge granted them youthful offender treatment, those who did not receive that status was left behind.

The Simotas bill would amend the New York State Criminal Procedure Law to allow people who have stayed out of trouble for ten years, to apply for conviction sealing if they were eligible for, but did not receive youthful offender treatment when they were sentenced. Before Raise the Age was signed into law, New York was previously one of only two states that automatically prosecuted 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. The injustice unfairly punished youth and prevented them from receiving the services they need to rehabilitate themselves and re-integrate into their communities. The legislation raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age so now New York’s youth who commit non-violent crimes will now receive age-appropriate housing and programming to lower their risk of re-offense.

“Expanding eligibility for conviction sealing will give people who committed crimes in their youth the chance to become full members of society in adulthood,” Simotas said. “If someone has stayed out of trouble for ten years, I think they should be granted the chance to move beyond the burden of a criminal record.”

Simotas said she became aware of the lapse in the law after state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Zayas, the administrative judge for the criminal term in Queens Supreme Court was interviewed by the New York Law Journal about a December 12, 2018 decision he issued, reluctantly denying the sealing request of a 50-year-old woman identified as Jane Doe who had been convicted of attempted second degree robbery when she was just 16 years old. Doe was eligible to receive youthful offender treatment, but did not receive it. Doe completed her sentence of five years’ probation in 1988 and stayed out of trouble ever since.

In his decision, Justice Zayas noted that he was constrained by current law and forced to deny Doe’s request to have her conviction sealed, an outcome he said was “inconsistent with the laudable goals of the sealing stature.”