To the Editor,
Another State legislative session has come and gone, and unfortunately with it comes more bad laws in the Capitol, and more bad outcomes for law-abiding citizens. The so-called “Clean Slate” bill, a policy that automatically seals a large number of criminal records, is fatally flawed, and yet touted as another “major accomplishment” for State Democrats. This harmful law provides no exemption for kidnapping, manslaughter, burglary, or arson, meaning that those places who deal with vulnerable individuals, such as nursing homes, may be hiring a violent offender without even knowing it because their record has been sealed. New York State law presently allows for sealing of records under certain instances at the discretion of a judge, discretion which this law removed.
Bad policies coming out of the Capitol is something of a sad, annual tradition in New York the last four years.
Clean Slate joins a spate of terrible changes to our criminal justice system, whether it’s the no-cash bail laws, the discovery “reforms,” or the broken parole policies that have made our communities less safe. I am not insensible to the notion that perhaps some changes may have been necessary to make our criminal justice system fairer, but totally deferring to criminal offenders is not the answer.
The answer is judicial discretion, and I am not alone in saying so – District Attorneys and experts from both sides of the aisle have been saying so for four years now. Judges are responsible, highly trained and experienced individuals who are selected by the voters of their communities. To the electorate and their peers, judges are highly accountable. Most sensible people know that laws are not necessarily black and white when applied to real people, and that many situations have mitigating circumstances. Not setting bail or sealing a criminal record may very well be appropriate in some cases – but let the experts, our judges, make the call.
State Democrats have argued that judicial discretion will undermine the so-called “progress” they’ve made.
I think that argument is disrespectful to our public servants on the bench and the people who voted to put them there. State Democrats have floated the idea of a constitutional amendment to move judicial elections to the same term as Presidential elections, citing spurious concerns about turnout and cost. Local election years help voters focus in on local issues and allow them to thoroughly vet candidates without being swept up into nationwide issues that are discussed in Presidential election years. The true agenda of the State Democrats supporting this move is obvious – they have no respect for judges, voters, or our criminal justice system.
New Yorkers must wake up, become engaged and vote for better representation. It’s the only hope we have for a more balanced government, and a safer state.
Albany County Legislature