Beginning next month, the records of children who have appeared in New York family courts for misbehavior such as running away, skipping school and disobeying parents will be automatically expunged for the first time when they turn 21.
This high-stakes but little-known change to current law will protect roughly 1,000 minors in the state each year who have been labeled by a judge as “persons in need of supervision,” cases known as PINS.
“We don’t want whatever happened in their childhood to follow them and destroy the rest of their lives — which it can and has done if you have a record that keeps popping up,” Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi said in an interview with The Imprint. “You’re more likely to be a recidivist, and you’re less likely to be able to get a job. We want these kids to have full, productive lives.”
Hevesi’s Assembly Bill 6544 is one in a series of measures introduced at the request of the former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, on the recommendation of the Family Court Advisory and Rules Committee.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the legislation in December with some amendments. They included requiring local educational agencies to expunge PINS records, and excluding foster care and preventative service records from sealing and expungement, but ensuring they remain confidential.
With those changes, the governor stated in a December signing memo, “I fully support this legislation, which protects the privacy of children and youth brought before the Family Court.”
The law follows the passage in November of “Clean Slate” legislation, which seals the files of adult offenders and some teenagers with publicly available criminal records. It is expected to provide a pathway for as many as 2 million New Yorkers to acquire housing and jobs more easily. To date, a dozen states have passed some form of Clean Slate legislation.
“Before these new sealing statutes, a criminal conviction would follow someone for the rest of their lives — whether it occurred when they were a teenager or an adult,” Aleksandra Ciric, a staff attorney at New York City’s Legal Aid Society, wrote in an email.
Supporters of the law sealing PINS records say the reform corrects an unusual loophole in state law that allowed for young people’s juvenile delinquency records to be sealed and expunged but did not grant the same protections for minors deemed “persons in need of supervision,” such as truants.
Parents, police, schools and foster care agencies can ask a judge to place a child on PINS. Under the new law, those records will be automatically expunged if the case is rejected by a judge, or if the request is withdrawn. The remaining records would be expunged at age 21.
The change is needed due to the repercussions and stigma accompanying the PINS label, youth advocates argue. Changes to the PINS paper trail were first passed three years ago, after a group of high school girls helped convince the New York Legislature to remove the denigrating word “incorrigible” from the original statute that defined such minors.
Representatives of the state’s court system pushed for the additional changes, saying PINS record-sealing is long overdue.
“Passage of the juvenile delinquency statute over three decades ago ironically left youth charged as Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS) with fewer protections than either their juvenile delinquent or adult counterparts,” stated a 2022 report by the statewide Family Court Advisory and Rules Committee. It called for the legislative measure that would remedy this “glaring” disparity, which became AB 6544.
The PINS bill faced little opposition in the Senate and Assembly when it came up for a floor vote. In the Senate, only one Republican was opposed, Sen. Joseph Griffo of Utica.
State lawmakers who pushed for the legislation included Sens. Jabari Brisport and Zellnor Myrie, who along with Hevesi, have backed several pieces of legislation that would better protect New Yorkers from public access to records. A bill pending since 2021, Senate Bill 3104, would further clarify and protect “the record-related rights of children arrested as juvenile delinquents or those arrested as juvenile offenders and adolescent offenders.” The legislation further states: “Protecting children from collateral consequences related to juvenile records is consistent with the rehabilitative purpose of the Family Court Act.”