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Judge: Adams’ and NYPD press conference used sealed criminal records and was illegal

(GOTHAMIST) Matt Katz, March 7, 2023

A Manhattan Supreme Court Judge has ruled that the NYPD violated the law when it accessed sealed criminal records to use at an August press conference arguing that bail reform caused a rise in crime.

Arrest records are sealed in New York if charges are resolved in a defendant’s favor, such as through dismissal or acquittal. Law enforcement agencies are not supposed to break the seal without a judge’s order.

Yet Judge Lyle E. Frank found the NYPD accessed sealed records without permission and shared them last summer at a press conference convened by Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell. The judge did not levy a fine for the violation, as the plaintiffs had requested.

A spokesperson for the NYPD said it was reviewing the decision.

During the press conference, officials argued that recent bail reform laws — which sought to keep fewer people locked up pretrial for minor crimes if they couldn’t afford bail — had defanged the ability of judges to send repeat offenders to jail. It highlighted 10 “worst of the worst” repeat offenders who together had been arrested nearly 500 times. The information accessed from sealed records was previewed by the New York Post in a front-page story that laid the blame on bail reform.

Ironically, all 10 of the offenders referenced in the press conference were eligible to be held on bail for their most recent charges, according to lawyers for the public defender group the Bronx Defenders, which filed the suit. And many, if not most, of the arrests cited did not yield convictions, the suit said. So the recent changes to state bail reform laws that Adams and the NYPD had criticized had not kept them free until their court hearings — judges had.

The Bronx Defenders previously won a preliminary injunction forbidding officers from accessing sealed records without a judge’s order. The injunction also ordered officials not to release information about sealed arrests to the media.

Attorneys for the NYPD argued that the information released at the press conference did not violate the injunction, because the names of the individuals were not mentioned. Citing “sources,” a story in the New York Post did cite one person by name.

Attorney Niji Jain of the Bronx Defenders said the ruling means the city cannot pull another “press stunt” like this “to smear people’s reputations.”

“The court’s order makes clear that the city must end its unlawful practice of providing the press with information on sealed arrest records,” Jain said. “This is an important protection for the over 3.5 million New Yorkers whose sealed records have been mishandled by the NYPD for years.”

Source: Gothamist