NY Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman Proposes Bill Erasing Non-Violent Convictions

The "convicted felon" label sticks on a person like a cattle brand. A black mark in job interviews and on college applications. Perhaps the most formidable obstacle standing between life in the system and life on the straight path. The record is a reminder that while you can change past ways and atone for past misdeeds, you cannot erase society's memory of that past life.

As Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman put it this week: "The stigma of a criminal record continues long after a sentence has been served."

Lippman, the top judge on the state's highest court, thinks that this memory should not always be permanent. And in his State of the Judiciary speech on Tuesday, he announced that he was drafting a bill that would allow judges to erase non-violent felony convictions from a person's record after ten years of no arrests. Judges would also be able to expunge misdemeanor convictions if the person goes seven years without an arrest.

The record cleansing would not apply to sex offense, political corruption, and drunk driving convictions.

Lippman made a particular effort to address the way convictions for minor crimes can disproportionately damage a person's future. In his speech, he said that starting in April he will seal misdemeanor records, which sometimes keep people from finding jobs.

"There is no doubt that criminal conduct should have consequences," Lippman said, "but individual, often isolated, mistakes that result in criminal convictions for low-level, non-violent offenses should not permanently hinder a person's ability to become a productive, law-abiding member of society, particularly when he or she has gone years without being re-arrested."

Lippman said that he is sending a draft bill to the state legislature.

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