Starting Monday, a convicted felon could be hired to teach your child in school or care for your ailing grandmother in a nursing home, and neither you, nor the employer, would have a way of knowing about the person's criminal past.
New legislation, enacted as part of Rockefeller drug reforms included in this year's state budget, allows courts to seal the criminal records of non-violent felony drug offenders if they complete drug court and rehabilitation programs. Convictions for one felony and up to three misdemeanors could be sealed.
That means that most employers would never know if a person was previously convicted of manufacturing meth, selling marijuana or using a child to commit a controlled substance offense -- even if the employer runs a background check. The same would be true for several burglary and criminal mischief charges.
Those criminal convictions would pop up only if a person applies to become a police officer or requests a gun permit. Background checks for doctors, day-care workers and bank tellers would reveal nothing.
"It's insane to not protect the vulnerable over people who have had four shots," said Sen. John DeFrancisco.
James Freedland, spokesman for Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan/Bronx, who sponsored the bill, said the senator proposed the changes to give non-violent offenders a second chance and get them back into the workforce.
"There is absolutely no automatic sealing of criminal records," Freedland said. "This is about discretion. Prior to now, prosecutors were the ones who had the authority to make that say (to seal records). Now judges are the ones who have the final say."
"The people who are eligible...are not people that are in prison," he continued. "These are people that were diverted into drug treatment programs and successfully completed those programs."
The law is scheduled to take effect Monday.
Two weeks ago, Schneiderman introduced legislation to push back the bills start date to give criminal justice agencies a chance to update their systems to handle the new provisions. Senate Republicans also introduced a bill last month to repeal the record-sealing law.
But, as of Friday, neither bill had been considered.
by Delen Goldberg
Sunday June 07, 2009, 8:00 AM