Consequences for criminal convictions don’t end at the jail exit or termination of probation. Even after you have served your sentence and have moved on from a conviction, your criminal record may not allow you to apply for the jobs or licenses that you want to pursue as a law-abiding citizen. Other rights, like the right to own a firearm or vote in general elections, may also be restricted depending on your conviction.
So what are your options if you have a criminal conviction on your record?
New York has several different possibilities for previous offenders who are looking to restore their civil rights, from specific licensure to the restoration of all civil rights.
The following strategies may help a person in the rehabilitation process so they can move forward with their lives after a conviction:
Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities
A felony conviction may bar you from obtaining a professional license – even if your crime has nothing to do with your ability to perform the associated job duties. A Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities (CRD) can help you restore the ability to keep or apply for these licenses or jobs.
A quick note about CRDs: they allow ex-offenders to avoid automatic forfeitures or disabilities. These are legal restrictions actually written down in New York law. Even with a CRD, offenders may be rejected from holding certain jobs or obtaining certain licenses. For example, obtaining a CRD may lift your restriction to apply for a firearm license, but you may still be rejected after you apply.
Redress under Correction Law §§ 754 and 755
A CRD can give a former offender the ability to avoid automatic forfeitures and disabilities. Previous offenders may still be affected by discretionary forfeitures and disabilities. These opportunities are left up to the authorities or potential employers responsible for distributing licenses or awarding employment. These restrictions can prohibit ex-offenders, but are not automatic prohibitions.
A former offender who is affected by this type of restriction has a right to a written explanation after a denial. After receiving the explanation, the offender may have the option to challenge the employer/licensing agent for unlawful discrimination.
The oldest form of relief comes in the form of a pardon. Pardons are issued for three reasons:
- If the offender is found to be innocent after they have been sentenced (conviction will be set aside)
- To ameliorate collateral consequences and restore civil rights (conviction will not be annulled)
- To prevent a non-citizen from deportation or to permit reentry of a non-citizen
A recent pardon program was enacted specifically for youth offenders. When the program was introduced in late 2015, Governor Cuomo’s office estimated that 10,000 New Yorkers might qualify for this pardon.
Which Strategy Is Right for You?
The appropriate strategy may be different for every case. A previous offender who is looking to restore firearm rights, for example, will likely use a different strategy than someone who is looking to keep their professional license or gain a new one. You may begin working toward any of these strategies after a conviction – even before you are sentenced.
If you would like to pursue any of these strategies, it is best to talk to a Brooklyn criminal lawyer.