Legal experts will be available to provide information and answer questions related to removal or reduction of eligible criminal convictions under new state legislation
On Thursday, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announced the first of two upcoming events for residents of Erie County who are interested in learning how to expunge or reduce marijuana-related convictions on their criminal record.
The first informational clinic will be held from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25. A second clinic will be held from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24. Both events will be held at Elim Christian Fellowship on 70 Chalmers Ave., in the City of Buffalo.
Flynn’s team said, “A criminal record, even for a low-level marijuana-related offense, can negatively impact an individual’s ability to access education, housing and employment. The purpose of these free informational sessions is to educate residents about eligibility requirements, and help those who are legally entitled to have marijuana-related convictions removed from their criminal record. Legal experts will be available to provide residents with information on recently enacted criminal laws and answer questions about the expungement process.”
Flynn said, “Now that New York state has legalized recreational cannabis, we must act on behalf of the people whose lives have been unfairly impacted by a marijuana-related conviction on their criminal record. In particular, African Americans have been disproportionally impacted by the criminalization of cannabis, which has hindered their pursuit of certain opportunities in life. I hope to give a fresh start to our citizens who have been living with these criminal convictions by offering legal support to expedite the expungement or reduction process.”
The district attorney was joined by Kevin M. Stadelmaier, first deputy defendant – criminal division of the Erie County Bar Association assigned legal counsel program; Sarah Ryan, managing attorney – criminal defense unit of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo Inc.; and the Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Bronner of Elim Christian Fellowship.
Stadelmaier said, “After years of injustice perpetrated against impoverished and minority populations through the criminalization of marijuana, the New York State Legislature legalized the possession and adult use of marijuana in 2021. This landmark legislation takes dramatic steps to substantially reduce crime, improve negatively affected communities and redress unjust convictions, which occurred under the now repealed statutory regime. A major component of the new law is the expungement of most marijuana-related convictions, providing those clients affected by the former laws the ability to move forward unburdened. We thank the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo and Erie County District Attorney John Flynn for their partnership in our efforts at mass expungement of these convictions.”
Ryan said, “Expungement of marijuana-related convictions is a step towards righting one of the many injustices suffered by members of disadvantaged communities in our city. Expungement gives people the ability to apply for employment, schooling and housing without having a marijuana conviction negatively affect the better future they are hoping to achieve. Allowing people access to realizing dreams results in a better and more prosperous society for everyone. The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo thanks all the participants who are working towards this worthy project.”
Flynn’s team explained expungement vacates a criminal conviction, which is the same as if the arrest never happened. Once expunged, the conviction will no longer appear on a criminal background check and does not need to be disclosed when applying for a job, student loans or housing. The conviction record will be sealed and remain confidential except if applying for a pistol permit or employment with a law enforcement agency.
Under the legislation, only certain cannabis-related offenses committed in New York state can be expunged or reduced from a criminal record. Any convictions in the criminal case, other than the marijuana-related offense, will remain on an individual’s criminal record.
Under the passage of the New York State Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), certain offenses involving the possession or sale of cannabis will automatically be expunged from an individual’s criminal record by the New York State Office of Court Administration, and sealed by operation of law. While the expungement of certain cannabis-related convictions requires no action, the Office of Court Administration was granted two years to implement the automatic expungement process, which is not expected to be complete until March 31, 2023.
A conviction will be automatically vacated by the court if a person was found guilty of violating the following sections of the New York State Penal Law:
√ Pl 221.05 unlawful possession of marijuana in the second degree
√ PL 221.10 unlawful possession of marijuana in the first degree
√ PL 221.15 criminal possession of marijuana in the fourth degree
√ PL 221.20 criminal possession of marijuana in the third degree
√ PL 221.35 criminal sale of marijuana in the fifth degree
√ PL 221.40 criminal possession of marijuana in the fourth degree
√ PL 222.10 restrictions on cannabis use
√ PL 222.15 personal cultivation and home possession of cannabis
√ PL 222.25 unlawful possession of cannabis
√ PL 222.45 unlawful sale of cannabis
The following convictions are subject to automatic expungement only if the controlled substance involved was concentrated cannabis:
√ PL 240.36 loitering in the first degree, but only if the court can determine that concentrated cannabis was the only controlled substance involved.
√ PL 220.03 criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, but only if the court can determine that concentrated cannabis was the only controlled substance involved.
√ PL 220.06 criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fifth degree, but only if the court can determine that concentrated cannabis was the only controlled substance involved.
Certain convictions may be eligible for expungement, charge reduction and/or sentence reduction, but require that a motion be filed with the court:
√ PL 221.25 criminal possession of marijuana in the second degree
√ PL 221.30 criminal possession of marijuana in the first degree
√ PL 221.45 criminal sale of marijuana in the third degree
√ PL 221.50 criminal sale of marijuana in the second degree
√ PL 221.55 criminal sale of marijuana in the first degree
Erie County residents who believe they have an eligible marijuana-related conviction are encouraged to attend one of the upcoming information sessions. Anyone seeking an expungement or reduction must sign and complete an application form and a financial eligibility form to allow legal experts to obtain a copy of the applicant’s court records and criminal history.
Attorneys will review the records to determine each person’s eligibility for conviction expungement or reduction. If eligible, attorneys will file a motion with the court for an expungement or reduction of the criminal charge. The motion will be brought before a judge, and prosecutors from the Erie County District Attorney’s Office will consent to the dismissal or reduction of the conviction at a court date expected to occur this fall. The applicant will be notified if the conviction is not eligible for expungement or reduction.
The free informational clinics are presented by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, Erie County Assigned Counsel Program and the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, with support from the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo.