Some people who were sentenced for crimes they committed when they were very young can now ask a judge for a second chance of sorts under a new law in New York state — but only after they’ve maintained a clear record five years after sentencing, or after their incarceration.
Legislation (Senate Bill 282/Assembly Bill 6769) signed Tuesday by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) would bar the public disclosure of the person’s criminal record, lowering a barrier to job opportunities and freeing them of the lifelong stigma that often follows people who have served their time after they are released from jail or prison.
“Thanks to this legislation,” Hochul said in a statement, “we can now support those who have learned from their mistakes by doing away with the stigma of a criminal conviction, and giving them the opportunity to get back on their feet.”
Under existing New York law, judges can in some instances either grant or deny “youthful offender” status to those who appear before them if they were under 19 years old at the time of the offense. When a judge grants that special status at sentencing, it allows a youth a more open path to success in life after the sentence is served, but if they don’t, it raises a major obstacle for the defendant.
Under the new law, those who were initially denied youthful offender status at sentencing will be allowed to apply to the court for a retroactive designation — but only if they haven’t gotten into legal trouble for five years since sentencing. If the request is granted, it amounts to a second chance to leave their mistakes behind.
“Youth should not have to shoulder the consequences of a criminal conviction for a lifetime, and these punitive laws only hurt our communities rather than keeping them safe,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of criminal defense practice at the Legal Aid Society. “Creating lifelong barriers for behavior that has been shown, for the most part, to be time-limited is an unnecessarily harsh consequence for young people and fails to support true community safety.”
The governor agreed with bill sponsors state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman and former Assemblymember Aravella Simota that the new law will make communities stronger and safer as a result of giving a break to those who have shown they can stay out of trouble.