A Clean Slate for Criminals at the Expense of Victims is Unacceptable
By Ray Tierney
The proposed “Clean Slate” law currently pending in the New York state legislature will, if passed, result in more violence and crime perpetrated against ordinary New Yorkers.
The only question is, how much?
This is more of the same from our New York Legislature. They seek at every turn to protect criminals at the expense of victims and honest, hard-working citizens.
New York legislators recently amended our sealing statute in 2017. That statute allows offenders to apply for the sealing of convictions.
Apparently, our legislators are frustrated that more defendants have not bothered to make such applications, and rather than taking a considered and individualized approach to sealing convictions, they have once again opted for a one-size-fits-all statute that fails to consider public safety.
The Legislature’s solution is to institute mandatory automatic sealing of convictions up to, and including, vehicular homicide, burglary, robbery, and kidnapping. This process does not allow any input whatsoever from crime victims, judges, or prosecutors. In fact, it will make it illegal for citizens to ask if a murderer is applying to work or live with them.
Are you hiring a bookkeeper? Well, you won’t be able to find out if your applicant previously stole millions of dollars, put their last employer out of business, or exploited their past fiduciary position to steal identities and banking information.
Are you looking for a housemate to live with and look after an elderly relative? Your new housemate may have convictions for crimes ranging from elder abuse to robbery to kidnapping and you would have no way of ever finding out.
Are you hiring someone to watch animals boarded overnight? They may have been convicted of animal cruelty and again, you would have no way of ever learning of this conviction.
Are you a victim who obtained a five-year order of protection against a defendant convicted of assaulting you and inflicting physical injury? Sorry. Through the enactment of this statute, your formerly five-year order of protection will now be automatically sealed after three years.
As if that wasn’t enough, the proposed law currently pending in Albany also eviscerates increased penalties for repeated drunk driving, animal abuse and prior firearms convictions. It ignores repeat offenders who have federal or out-of-state convictions. These repeat offenders will be before the court as if it were their first offense, even though it is not. A previous violent felon from New Jersey is no less dangerous than one from New York and certainly both categories of felons should not be treated differently, but, under this proposed law, they will be. It seems that our Legislature feels that, because no one will be the wiser, it does not matter that public safety will suffer.
In their rush to help convicted criminals, our legislators are throwing out decades of criminal law developments that protect victims and help keep us safe. Just like the ill-advised bail reform imposed by Albany, our legislators are ignoring victims, lessening the consequences that should logically flow from serious criminal activity and allowing predatory previously convicted felons to hide their prior conduct from potential future victims.
We already have mechanisms in New York State for judges to seal criminal convictions where appropriate. But, because defendants have not bothered to seal their own convictions if they feel it is appropriate, our legislators want to step in and make sealing mandatory and automatic. The danger of repeat criminal activity will be passed on to victims and all New Yorkers. Of course, this is unacceptable, but, given the New York State Legislature’s recent history of consistently placing the rights of criminals above those of their victims, it’s sadly not surprising.
Ray Tierney is the District Attorney of Suffolk County. He has been a prosecutor for over 30 years.