If you've been thinking about seeking expungement of your Pennsylvania crimes or arrest record, you should know there are ways to ensure a speedier process. Expungement can be tedious and time-consuming, and unfortunately, local and world events can combine to create serious backlogs in the Pennsylvania courts, adding stress to an already sluggish process.
Still, the sometimes-slow nature of the expungement process shouldn't dissuade you from seeking expungement as the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience. Those who successfully expunge their criminal histories can move forward with their lives without the constant worry that an old mistake or lapse in judgment will come back to haunt them at the worst possible time.
Expungements help individuals:
- Enroll in higher education
- Pass background checks for new housing
- Seek better professional opportunities
- Pass background checks for state professional licensing boards
The list above is not exhaustive, but it demonstrates how expungement can affect your entire future positively. While it may seem daunting, there are ways to speed up the process when you initiate the steps to expunge your record in PA.
Tip No. 1: Apply for Expungement When You Become Eligible
Procrastination is human nature, and most of us are apt to delay in completing a task that won't have an immediate impact. This is often the approach individuals take to initiate the expungement process. All too often, people with a criminal history don't try to expunge their record until their past crimes or arrests show up in a background check. Then they're left scrambling to collect the records to prepare an Expungement Petition.
Hurried Expungement Petitions Contain Errors
Expungement Petitions must contain complete and accurate information, and it takes no stretch of the imagination to understand that a rushed petition is more likely to contain errors of omission or incorrect information. Even when an experienced attorney aids you in the preparation of your expungement petition, they may be unable to catch mistakes if you accidentally provided them with inaccurate information.
Understand Your Eligibility
The best approach to ensuring a timely expungement process is to begin preparation of your Expungement Petition when you become eligible. This will also ensure that you're able to obtain a more complete and accurate record because it's just easier to remember the details of your arrest or crime if only five years have passed and not decades.
Not all convictions in PA are eligible for expungement, but arrests and convictions that are eligible for expungement will become so only after at least five years have passed since your last arrest in most cases.
Expungement eligibility can be complicated, and to best understand not only what is eligible, but when it will become eligible for expungement, you should speak with an experienced attorney. When you get the ball rolling on your Expungement Petition as soon as you're eligible, versus only after your criminal record has caused you an issue on a background check, you'll be able to move through the process with fewer errors and less stress.
Tip No. 2: Locate and Obtain Your Complete Criminal Record
Successfully petitioning the courts for expungement of your criminal history or arrest records requires ensuring that you accurately describe your criminal record in the Expungement Petition. In Pennsylvania, you'll need to obtain copies of your records from each criminal justice agency where the histories were initiated. There are a few ways to go about this.
If you're unsure of where your conviction records were initiated, the best place to start is with a PATCH (“Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History”) search. A full report may take up to a few weeks, but once your results are returned, you'll know not only what convictions/dispositions will show up in a background check but also which courts have those records.
Importantly, PATCH does not show your entire history. It won't show arrests that didn't result in a conviction or disposition. Scenarios that could result in an arrest without subsequent disposition include but are not limited to:
- You were arrested, but no charges were made
- You successfully completed the ARD (“Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition”) program for drugs or alcohol
For a complete check of your records, you could fill out and mail the Request for Individual Access and Review form. Only you or your attorney can make a records request using this form, but the search results will yield your entire history, unlike the PATCH search. This search process can take a few months, as the records are searched more thoroughly and compiled manually.
If you know exactly what is on your criminal history record in Pennsylvania, and you also know exactly what court or courts maintain the records, then you can go to the court clerk and request the records in person. This is often the quickest way to get your records so you can begin compiling the documents needed for your Expungement Petition.
Tip No. 3: Stay Out of Trouble
Those wishing to expunge their existing criminal records should take care to stay out of subsequent criminal trouble. That is not to say those with an old criminal record haven't become upstanding citizens since their past mistakes, but an event as simple as having a little too much to drink can knock you completely off track.
While this probably seems obvious, mistakes do happen, and if you've gone through the trouble of tracking down your criminal record and hiring an expungement attorney to help you with the process, then the last thing you want to do is get charged with a DUI for example.
Granted, expungement eligibility may only be precluded by a pending criminal matter in certain instances, but this additional legal headache can cause various issues, including adding another record to the list of items you need to expunge at some later point in time. It also can restart the expungement eligibility clock for your entire record, again, depending on the circumstances. Importantly, the clock doesn't start again until the disposition of any new criminal proceedings is wrapped up, which can take several months or even years.
(Specifically, a new arrest or prosecution will reset the clock to the time the new case is over and this would affect people trying to seek an expungement of a summary offense, which requires remaining arrest and prosecution-free for five years, or a person trying to seek an expungement of a misdemeanor or felony after having turned 70 years of age and which requires remaining arrest and prosecution-free for 10 years.)
Another potential concern is that if a person is charged with a crime or has a pending criminal case separate from the case for which the person is seeking expungement, this can prompt the applicable District Attorney's Office involved in the request for expungement to object to the request. Such an objection would not necessarily be because the petitioner is precluded from an expungement because of a new arrest or pending case, but rather because the District Attorney's Office does not regard the petitioner of being deserving of an expungement of the otherwise eligible case at that point in time.
If such an objection were to be made, the decision whether the case under consideration would be expunged would ultimately be up to the assigned judge at the time of a contested hearing. An objection from the District Attorney's Office or a contested hearing will only delay the possibility of an expungement. Put simply, staying out of trouble will be best for various reasons.
Tip No. 4: Make Sure Your Expungement Documents are Accurate
The steps for expunging your criminal record in Pennsylvania aren't all that complicated at first glance. In theory, you just need to obtain your criminal record, prepare and submit the Expungement Petition to the appropriate court, and then send formal notice of the Expungement Order to the criminal justice agencies that hold your records. In a best-case scenario, the process may take three to six months.
While some timing issues are outside of your control, like backlog in the courts or the speed of the postal service, ensuring accuracy of the documents you submit during the process will prevent unnecessary delay.
During each step of the Pennsylvania expungement process, there is the opportunity for mistakes, and each time a mistake is made, you will experience delays. This starts with the records request forms. To avoid delays, make sure you provide the appropriate affidavit for a legal representative when needed. When you submit the records request, you need to make sure you've included your name or former names correctly and that you've provided complete contact information regarding where you want your records to be sent. If you move while you're waiting for your records search results, they may be returned to sender. If you have an attorney, you can have your records sent to their office.
When you file your Expungement Petition, you need to make sure that the record is complete and accurate. Prosecutors will jump at the chance to argue that you've submitted inaccurate information and that your petition should be denied. Your expungement attorney will ask you to review the petition before it's filed, and you should be thorough in your review.
Tip No. 5: Hire an Experienced Expungement Attorney and Be Honest with Them
When you hire an experienced PA expungement attorney, you're increasing your chance of successful expungement while simultaneously reducing the risk of delays during the expungement process. It's important that the attorney you hire is experienced in the various PA counties because the expungement process will vary slightly in each jurisdiction. Just like a chef won't add salt when a recipe calls for sugar, an experienced expungement attorney won't send an informal notice when formal notice is required after an Expungement Order is issued.
Your biggest role to play when working with a knowledgeable expungement attorney in PA is in providing them with an honest and accurate record of your criminal history. This allows them to do their job for you and advise you of what is and is not eligible for expungement. In some cases, your attorney will be able to suggest alternatives, like record sealing, when expungement isn't appropriate.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has worked with thousands of clients throughout the state of Pennsylvania and beyond who want to move forward from their past crimes so they can build a better life for themselves and their families. To learn how the Lento Law Firm can help you expunge your PA criminal records, call 888-535-3686 today.