Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sealing Criminal Records in Buffalo Area Courts

Despite the confusion and abundant misinformation on the topic, it is a critical area of New York Criminal Law. After all the worst consequence to a criminal charge is usually  not jail, a fine or community service, but the criminal record that will usually  result. 

The following information reflects my understanding of what happens to charges when they are disposed of in New York State either by conviction , verdict or pea or by dismissal, (acquittal or dismissal, ACD)   


"Expungement" means that the record is actually taken out of the system.   "Sealing" means that the record exists, but that it is hidden from public view.   When a record is sealed at the Court level it means that the Court's file is stored at the Particular Courthouse where the sealing was ordered, and that there is also an electronic record there of the case, but neither the actual file nor the computer record is available to the general public.

Under New York CPL 160.50, there is a combination of sealing and expungement  with regards to a defendant's criminal criminal record. The fingerprints, photographs and arrest records are supposed to be destroyed (expunged) at the police level, but the Court Records are neither destroyed nor returned, Instead, under CPL 160.50 they are sealed at the Court level and are also sealed in Albany, New York.  But even Albany maintains a  special electronic file of the arrest which is not disclosed except under very special circumstances.

What Records can be sealed in New York?

In New York State, a record of a criminal conviction, of  any misdemeanor or felony except a youthful offender adjudication, is never sealed and is considered a public record available to anyone through the OCA website for a $55 fee. Even  if the person had the charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor or only received probation.  There are no exceptions to this general  rule.

In New York, the only records that get sealed are complete dismissals including: 

ACD's  other forms of dismissal and Acquittals, these get the full seal treatment of CPL 160.50.  Also, charges that are reduced from a misdemeanor or felony to a violation or infraction get the partial seal treatment of CPL 160.55.

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