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NYCLU Hails Court Of Appeals Decision Protecting Rights Of Criminal Defendants

The NYCLU applauds today’s decision by the state’s highest court to limit the circumstances under which criminal charges not resulting in convictions must remain sealed. Sounding an important victory for the rights of defendants, the New York Court of Appeals reversed a trial court ruling that would have allowed sealed cases to be used against criminal defendants in determining their sentences.

Under section 160.50 of the New York Criminal Procedure Law, cases that terminate in favor of the accused — including acquittals, dismissals, and adjournments in contemplation of dismissal (ACDs) — must be sealed and cannot be unsealed, except in narrow circumstances. The sealing provision recognizes that a criminal accusation is only an accusation and that the accused should not suffer negative consequences simply as a result of having been charged with a crime.

The protesters who filed the lawsuit In re Katherine B. et al. v. Hon. John Cataldo et al. all had sealed records of dismissals and ACDs in prior criminal cases for civil disobedience. As they awaited sentencing for unrelated acts of civil disobedience, a trial court judge granted the District Attorney’s request to unseal those records so they could be used to seek extraordinary terms of imprisonment. In its decision today, the Court of Appeals refused to broaden the narrow exceptions in state law that spell out exactly when sealed records can be unsealed.

“Today’s decision is a powerful statement that protects the rights of criminal defendants,” said Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “If the protesters had lost, the door would have been opened to determining how to punish protesters — and in fact, anyone — based on mere accusations of prior violations of the law.”

Last year, the NYCLU filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the protesters at the intermediate appellate court.

Click here to read about the amicus brief.

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