Thanks to the new conviction sealing opportunities available in CPL Section 160.59 in New York, beginning in October of this year, I am blessed with nearly daily heartwarming stories from people who this new law is meant to help. For the last 25 years, I have been a criminal defense lawyer, and therefore I have been regularly exposed to clients in desperate situations. In some cases, the news is not happy and hard choices often must be made.
Since the new conviction sealing law was enacted, and we have made it known that we will be handling these cases, the calls have been coming in. And it has been one positive story after the next.
After already having listened to many of the stories of people thrilled at the possibility of shedding themselves of the burden of a criminal conviction, I can say without hesitation that this new law should be a stunning success and that it should be a great source of justice and goodness in the world.
Client confidentiality, especially in this context of someone hoping to put a conviction in the past, demands that I not specifically reveal identifiable details of these stories, but I can describe what I have been hearing in general.
The stories I have been hearing are of good, decent people, at one time in the distant in the heat of some moment of weakness or suffering from being young and foolish, or in the grip of some sort of addiction, engaged in behavior that does not represent who they are. Sadly, however, they ended up with a criminal record, which until now was a forever thing. Opportunities vanished or become difficult to find. Options became limited.
But the wonderful thing about the many people I have already spoken to is that at least they have managed to find some kind of way to endure and overcome up to a point. They have worked hard, sometimes at multiple jobs. They have not been in trouble since the conviction ten or more years gone by. Inevitably the people who have contacted me feel as if the person who got the conviction was some other person from a lifetime ago. And although of course they had done wrong and this is the consequence, on hearing what they have done since the conviction, it seems to me impossible for anyone with the smallest compassion in their heart to feel as if the burden of criminal conviction has become unjust in these cases.
Multiple people have told this compelling part of the story, that is that they have managed to find their way in some business or another, often thanks to a miraculously sympathetic boss who is aware of the conviction. But they have reached the upper limit of their advancement in the company because of the conviction. Everyone would love to see them advance, but strict rules about those with prior convictions operate as a bar with no exceptions. In fact, the extent to which certain sympathetic bosses will go for many of the people who contact me is extraordinary and heartwarming. In at least two cases so far, my clients have told me in fact that it was their bosses who brought my law firm and our sealing service to their attention in the first place.
I love hearing the stories from people who call about sealing. They are universally stories of sacrifice, perseverance, and overcoming of seemingly unfair obstacles without complaint. They are exactly the sorts of stories that this new law has been built to address. Prior to this new law and our sealing service, I would occasionally get calls from people who had these stories, looking for a way to get a conviction sealed. I would have to turn those people away, left only with the deeply unsatisfying bureaucratic response of, "I'm sorry, there is nothing I can do."
But not anymore. Now there is something I can do, and I have to say that it is exhilarating to be able to be a part of it. I can't wait. I can't wait to be there at the undoing of a convictions from long ago and far away for people who have proven that they are not defined by their convictions.
Some people hearing about the new conviction sealing law cynically imagine drooling, sneering criminals leaping at the chance to hide their crimes so as better to prey upon the rest of us in the future. My experience so far has been that the people I have spoken to about taking advantage of this new law are as far as you can get from drooling sneering criminals.
I suspect that if attorney client privilege permitted me to tell the stories I have heard so far, there would hardly be a dry eye in the audience. I can imagine few people who would be opposed to sealing these peoples' convictions.
Please keep the stories coming.