Petitioning New York State House and 2 others

New York Bills A4026 & S5385 the "Second Chance Law": Sealing/Expunging Criminal Convictions/Record


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Letter to
New York State House
New York State Senate
New York Governor
A criminal conviction in New York State is forever. There is no appeal, there are no second chances, and there are few if any real opportunities for a fresh start by an ex-offender.

Over a million young men and women have been convicted of a non-violent/non-sexual misdemeanor in New York and have completed the punishment decreed by the court. Yet, regardless of the sentence handed down by the courts and having “paid their debt to society”; they have also been handed a hidden life sentence that was not the result of any judicial proceeding. There is currently no appeal process for this life sentence.

Should people who committed a non-violent or non-sexual offense when they were younger be left out in the cold and never be allowed to hold a job again simply because they stole a candy bar when they were 19? How does that help New York? Instead of having small-time offenders draining tax dollars by collecting unemployment or welfare, we should allow them to be put to work instead, which in turn would bring in more money for the state which is currently in a financial crisis.

The Certificates of Relief and Good Conduct that New York currently has and keeps wasting tax dollars on to revise aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. No other state recognizes them and businesses in New York will find any other reason not to hire you in this down economy.

Exacerbating the situation, Canada is barring U.S. residents with any kind of convictions (even DUIs since they’re considered felonies there) from entering, which hurts New Yorkers harder than most because we’re a contiguous state.

Most citizens believe that when someone who made a mistake has completed the punishment decreed by the court, that person has "Paid Their Full Debt to Society" and are thus free to resume their lives as they were before. Nothing is further from the truth. Under current state law, someone convicted of any misdemeanor will suffer the collateral consequences and lifetime stigma of the conviction, regardless of the magnitude of the offense. This stigma has become a civil death sentence for many.

In our judicial system, the magnitude of the offense determines the degree of punishment. The collateral consequences suffered upon completion of an offender's court ordered punishment is the same for all. Under New York law, the post conviction treatment of a non-violent offender is the same as that of someone who may have committed the most egregious of violent offenses. Some non-violent first offenders are only sentenced to periods of probation yet they must suffer the same post conviction consequences as someone who committed a much more serious violent crime. This is not justice.

A first time, non-violent/non-sexual offender who has paid their full debt deserves a second chance, a fresh start. They deserve an opportunity to earn their lives back. These people are not “hardened criminals.” Many if not most of them are quite ordinary people who have made a bad decision. They know it, they take full responsibility for their actions and they are full of remorse for the pain that they have caused to their families and society. Many are so called “white collar” offenders who had very good jobs before they made a mistake. Even someone like Martha Stewart fits this category. However, unlike Ms. Stewart most of these people do not have a merchandizing empire to fall back on. Most will never be able to regain their previous position. They are disenfranchised in too many ways to enumerate here.

There is much rhetoric about how much is being done to rehabilitate those who have committed a crime. People in the justice system talk about how much is being done to prepare the ex-offenders for their return to society. These are hollow, meaningless words when the reality is that we do everything possible to hamper previous offenders from regaining a productive place in society. Then we raise a hue and cry about how high the recidivism rate is.

Expungement and sealing legislation has been introduced by New York State legislators in every session of Congress since the year 2004. Many members of the current Assembly and Senate have co-sponsored this legislation yet not one bill has ever made it out of Committee. Please do not allow this to happen again. I am asking that you Governor Cuomo and the members of the New York State Senate and Assembly support and pass bills # A1139 and S5385 the "Second Chance Law" sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and Senator Lee Zeldin, respectively. These bills are both human and humane pieces of legislation. The positive impact of the legislation is incalculable. It is only right and just that New York State law allow former offenders the ability to lead productive lives without the stigma of their conviction haunting and handicapping them for the rest of their lives.

The concept of “permanent punishment” with no hope of restoration for a non-violent first time offender is void of any of the commonly held concepts of fairness. These bills are not, and you must not treat it as, a partisan issue. It is not Democrat/Republican, Conservative/Liberal or Black/White. Rather it is simply doing the right thing. Compassion and mercy should not be viewed as being "soft on crime." Please take immediate action. Add your support and pass these most worthy bills.

Thank you.