The Law Firm of Higbee & Associates (RecordGone.com) has won an appeal with the State of New York Appellate Court for the 9th and 10th Judicial Districts on behalf of one of their clients. The Firm filed a petition on behalf of the client requesting that the client’s drug related conviction be sealed pursuant to New York’s conditional drug conviction sealing law (CPL 160.58). An individual can petition the sentencing court for their drug conviction to be sealed if they received a conviction for an eligible offense and they completed a drug treatment program as part of their sentence. The Suffolk County Court did not find that the client’s treatment program met the standards set by the drug conviction sealing law, and so the court denied the petition without holding a hearing.
Higbee & Associates won the appeal of the Suffolk County Court’s decision by arguing that:
- The Suffolk County Court erred in finding that the client’s treatment program did not meet the standards set for a judicially sanctioned treatment program. The law allows for a treatment program to qualify if it is of similar duration and supervision as a specifically ordered program. The client was ordered as part of their sentence to complete substance abuse treatment through an “Oasis” approved out-patient program, and part of the probationary sentence included narcotics and alcohol conditions.
- The Suffolk County Court erred in denying the petition without holding a hearing. The conditional sealing law affords both the petitioner and county attorney the opportunity to have a hearing on the petition held in order to present relevant factors that could be important for the court to make an informed decision. In the Firm’s petition to the court, the client requested that a hearing be held before a decision were made on the matter. The Suffolk County Court ignored this request and denied the request for conditional sealing.
The New York Appellate Court found that the sentencing court did error in making a decision without holding a hearing first, as requested by the petitioner. The appellate court ordered that the Suffolk County Court’s denial be reversed and the petition be sent back to the Suffolk County Court for a new determination after a hearing is held to hear all facts of the case. The appellate court did not rule on whether or not the client’s treatment program constituted the equivalent to a judicially sanctioned treatment program.
This is an important decision, not only for the firm’s client, but for other individuals seeking relief through New York’s conditional sealing law for former drug offenders. The section of the law protecting a petitioner’s right to have their day in court is vital for the overall effectiveness of the law, and this appellate decision further emphasizes that in their ruling. A sentencing court judge does have broad authority when considering these cases, but a whole and complete decision cannot be made unless all facts of the case are heard first. Because of this ruling, it is now an abuse of discretion for a Court to deny a petition for conditional sealing of a drug conviction without holding a hearing, if a hearing is requested.
The conditional sealing law was created to provide former offenders the opportunity to seal a past mistake so they may enjoy a more fruitful future. New York recognizes that drug addiction is a medical condition and that with proper rehabilitation, former drug offenders are less likely to reoffend.