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Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Clean Slate Act on Nov. 16, 2023, in Brooklyn, N.Y.. The law shields some convictions from some background checks. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Clean Slate Act on Nov. 16, 2023, in Brooklyn, N.Y.. The law shields some convictions from some background checks.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Clean Slate Act on Nov. 16, 2023, in Brooklyn, N.Y.. The law shields some convictions from some background checks.

Jill Terreri Ramos
By Jill Terreri Ramos January 1, 2024

New York state’s Clean Slate law doesn’t keep convictions sealed from everyone

If Your Time is short

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a law in November that seals some criminal records, but excludes records for many Class A felonies such as murder, as well as sex offenses. 

  • Under the Clean Slate Act, sealed records will still be available to entities including law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. Sealed records will also show up in background checks for people applying for jobs to work with children and older people. 

  • In general, the law automatically seals records after a three-year waiting period for misdemeanors or an eight-year waiting period for felonies. People with convictions cannot reoffend during this time, or the clock starts over. 

New York’s Clean Slate Act, intended to help convicts secure jobs and housing after they have served their sentences, has come under fire from Republicans, who call the law too friendly to criminals. 

U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota, a Republican from eastern Long Island, shared claims about the act on Facebook: "Thanks to radical Democrats, violent crimes will be hidden from public view and background checks. These crimes will now be automatically sealed after a set time— like they never happened." 

We wondered if the new law seals crimes "like they never happened." 

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Clean Slate Act on Nov. 16 after years of negotiation on the kinds of crimes that would be included and the terms under which they would be hidden from public view, including the length of the waiting period. 

LaLota’s office told PolitiFact that the Facebook post does not claim the records will be expunged. "By definition, sealed information will not appear in criminal background checks, except in the limited circumstances which would be crimes not covered under Clean Slate," spokesman Will Kiley said.

We found, however, that these records will be sealed for some background checks, but not others. 

The law automatically seals records of some state crimes, but few Class A felonies, such as murder or terrorism. Sex offenses and sexually violent offenses are also excluded from sealing. In general, after people are sentenced, or in cases in which they are incarcerated, after they are released, eligible records would be sealed after three years for a misdemeanor and eight years for a felony. If the waiting period is over but the convicted people are still under community supervision, the crimes are sealed when community supervision concludes. If people with convictions commit crimes during the waiting period, the clock restarts. 

The law allows convictions to be sealed — not expunged. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges still have access to the records. If people reoffend, their criminal history can be taken into account in any new prosecution and sentence. 

"These records are not getting erased," said Jillian E. Snider, an adjunct lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 

Criminal records will remain available to those conducting background checks for jobs that require fingerprinting. These include jobs working in law enforcement or with vulnerable populations, such as children, people with disabilities and older adults. Ride-share companies will also have access to them to vet contractors, as will the state Education Department. The Department of Motor Vehicles and people who process pistol permit applications will still have access to sealed convictions. 

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"This is a bill about second chances and opportunities," said Ames Grawert, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, an advocate for the legislation. "It’s not a completely wipe-the-record-away sort of law. There are a number of exceptions." 

The law takes effect a year after it was signed, but it will take four years to implement, because of the complexity of automating the sealing in the state court records system, Grawert said. 

The Facebook meme lists several crimes that are eligible for sealing under the new law, including gang assault, aggravated manslaughter of a police officer, and second-degree attempted murder. The law enforcement experts we spoke with said those crimes will be sealed under the law. 

Recidivism data shows that if people do not reoffend after seven years, they probably won’t do so. That explains the eight-year waiting period, in which people cannot commit another crime or the clock starts over, Snider said. 

The state had a process for sealing some criminal records, but it was very difficult to access and some applications took more than a year to be processed, said Kate Wagner-Goldstein, a lawyer who advocated for the new law. 

Our ruling 

A meme was shared on social media claiming that New York’s Clean Slate Law seals violent crimes after a set time "like they never happened." 

For people with criminal convictions who do not reoffend and have not been convicted of Class A violent felonies or sex crimes, their records will be sealed for many purposes, including securing housing or many different jobs. 

But for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and those who grant gun licenses or driver’s licenses or hire people to work with vulnerable populations, those records will not be hidden from view. For them, the law will not make it like those crimes never happened. 

Because this claim has an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, we rate this Mostly False.  


Our Sources

Facebook post, "The ‘Clean Slate’ Consequences," Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., Nov. 18, 2023. 

Clean Slate Act, A01029C/S07551A, signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Nov. 16, 2023.

Email interview, Maggie Halley, spokesperson, Gov. Kathy Hochul, Dec. 6, 2023. 

Phone interview, Ames Grawert, senior counsel, John L. Neu Justice Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice, Dec. 7, 2023. 

Phone interview, Jillian E. Snider, adjunct lecturer, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Dec. 11, 2023. 

Phone interview, Katie Schaffer, director of advocacy and organizing, Center for Community Alternatives, Dec. 12, 2023. 

Phone interview, Kate Wagner-Goldstein, lawyer, Dec. 13, 2023. 

Email interview, Will Kiley, spokesperson, Rep. Nick LaLota, Dec. 15, 2023. 

The New York Times, "New York Will Give a ‘Clean Slate’ to Formerly Incarcerated People," Nov. 16, 2023. 

The Buffalo News, "Hochul signs bill that may seal millions of criminal records," Nov. 16, 2023.

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New York state’s Clean Slate law doesn’t keep convictions sealed from everyone

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