About 350 people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana crimes in Manhattan will now have their offenses hidden from public criminal records under a new class-action settlement.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., attorneys from nonprofit and pro-bono legal-services groups worked for almost a year on the petition which will seal the criminal records of some marijuana offenses, like smoking in public or possessing less than 25 grams of weed. The settlement is the first step in New York that could lead to similar criminal convictions being sealed in other boroughs and across the state, the attorneys said.
Emma Goodman, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said sealing criminal records can change lives and open doors for employment, housing, government programs and more. “Having even a low-level misdemeanor conviction can prevent people from finding work and getting work,” Ms. Goodman said. “It’s very demoralizing.”
The change was made possible by a provision of New York’s Raise the Age Act: people who were convicted of up to two nonviolent, low-level offenses, but had no other contact with the criminal-justice system for a decade, are eligible to petition local authorities to seal the convictions on their records, rendering them invisible to anyone except for law enforcement.