Over 150,000 individuals marijuana conviction records in New York state were expunged last year. This process seals those records from public view. Now, people can go a step further by asking that conviction-related records, such as arrest reports, prosecution records and criminal background, be destroyed completely.
The New York State Unified Court System announced the new procedure in a media release on Friday, outlining the measures individuals must take to be able to request their case documents be destroyed. Unlike expungements, which required no action from individuals with previous convictions, asking for the destruction of documents means filing a formal form with the court in which the conviction occurred.
The one-page form, accessible online or in courthouses, can be filed for free and requires only basic information about the case, including the person’s name, the court and county where the conviction took place, the case number and current contact details. Completed forms can be submitted in person at the court with official identification or delivered by mail when first notarized by a notary public.
The updates to the process of destroying marijuana conviction records, both last year’s expungements and the new procedure to destroy conviction records, resulted from a law passed last year which increased the decriminalization of cannabis possession from the state. The legislation automatically expunged thousands of previous convictions on the grounds that individuals should not continue to be labeled offenders for behavior no longer deemed a criminal violation.
The only parties able to see expunged records are pistol licensing agencies when individuals are applying for gun licenses and law enforcement agencies when individuals are applying for jobs as police officers.
Basically, if you are not wanting to become a cop or find a handgun, there might not be much to gain by getting your case documents destroyed.
For many, however, destroying records may be more of a personal desire. Marijuana arrests and prosecutions tend to be traumatic, consequential experiences. Advocates have clarified erasing case documents as an acknowledgment that the war on drugs was in error.
The new procedures states: “If you choose to submit an application for destruction, the arrest, prosecution and criminal background records associated with your expunged marijuana conviction are ruined, and there’ll be no record of your arrest or conviction for these fees. To put it differently, it is going to be like it never happened.”
Expungement and other actions to reverse the criminal records generated by the drug war have grown more popular as cannabis legalization has spread. The first couple of states to legalize cannabis treated expungement almost as an afterthought, occasionally requiring laborious legal filings that required the support of a lawyer. States to legalize more recently have integrated automatic expungement procedures, while others, like New York, have started expunging previous criminal marijuana conviction records before adult-use legalization.
New York state has a record of some of the country’s most striking racial disparities concerning cannabis arrests. A New York Times analysis in 2018 found that the previous 3 years showed that African Americans in Manhattan were 15 times more likely than non African Americans to be arrested for marijuana charges.
Those disparities also have fueled calls for complete legalization and the state has come close in the last few years. For the last two legislative sessions, Governor Andrew Cuomo (Democrat) has promised to focus on legalization for the session and submitted the reform in his budget proposal, but thus far he has failed to muster enough votes from lawmakers to get it passed.
Instead, legislators have passed bills focused on limited reforms. Besides last year’s law removing criminal penalties for simple possession and expunging past convictions, the state Senate this July passed bills that could extend expungements to add slightly more individuals and prevent tenants from being evicted exclusively for lawful use of medical marijuana.
Be sure to check out: Vermont Marijuana Decriminalization & Expungement Expansion Bill Approved