Interviewer: What are probably some of the most common surprises people have, things that they don’t know, or misconceptions they have about being arrested for drug possession?
Stuart Austin: I would say the most common thing that I hear is what we call the collateral compromise. People say, “I didn’t realize that. I didn’t know that.” For instance, if you’re convicted of a drug crime, or even a violation, you could lose your financial aid and you could lose certain licensing.
Present and Future Employers Can View Your Arrest Record
Even though you thought, “I plead guilty, they told me it wasn’t even a crime. They told me my record was sealed.” New York, as I said is an employment-at-will state. So employers can just say, “We decided we wanted somebody else.” They don’t really have to give you a reason for firing you as long as it’s not based on gender or race or sexual orientation. That’s the really, I think, what surprises people the most, is that they don’t realize the ramifications of what they thought was a simple marijuana possession; “It’s no big deal. People do it all the time.”
Interviewer: Do people come to you after they’ve been convicted of a drug-related first offense and want to seal their record or try to get it expunged?
Stuart Austin: When the drug treatment courts first started, people either through online access or reading the paper, assumed that they could get prior misdemeanors sealed under this statute. We had a large number of people coming in and asking about having their records sealed.
Unfortunately, it was usually not meant for the general population who had been convicted of a drug crime years ago. The statute was for somebody who was still under the problem of addiction and it was now going to clean it up.
There are quite a few people would like to seal old convictions, which is very typical for us to do, kind of an anomaly. If you are doing well, meaning you have overcome your addiction and you had previous drug crimes, you’re somewhat out-of-luck. If you’re doing poorly, you may be able to seal those when you take care of this new arrest or new charge.