Benefits of Expungement vs. Record Sealing

A criminal record can limit your opportunities in life. A conviction can follow you for the rest of your life, appearing on job background applications, limiting your professional career choices, and even impacting education, financial aid, loans, mortgages, and civic responsibilities like serving on a jury or holding public office. Some criminal records can also prevent you from legally owning or possessing a firearm. But there are opportunities for second chances. By expunging or sealing your criminal record, you may regain some of your lost privileges.

Privileges Lost by Convicted Felons

In Pennsylvania, a convicted felon can lose many privileges, including:

  • Losing the right to become an elected official. See Pa. Const. Art. II § 7.
  • Losing voting rights while incarcerated.
  • Disqualification from jury service. See 42 Pa .C.S.A. § 4502(a)(3).
  • Lose the ability to own or possess a firearm. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 6105.
  • Lose student loan eligibility. See 10 U.S.C. § 1091(r); 22 Pa. C.S.A. § 121.6.
  • Be ineligible to adopt or be a foster parent for ten years. See 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 6344(c).
  • Be ineligible for certain education-related jobs for ten years. See 24 Pa.S. Educ. § 1-111.
  • Lose professional licensure or certifications for ten years or longer.
  • Be required to register under “Megan's Law.” See 42 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 9799.1, 9799.67(1).
  • Be required to provide DNA after a felony sex crime conviction or other offenses. See 44 Pa. C.S.A. § 2316.

Inability to Hold Public Office

Under the Pennsylvania constitution, you can also lose the ability to hold elected office in the state, even if your crime wasn't a felony. “No person hereafter convicted of embezzlement of public moneys, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime, shall be eligible to the General Assembly, or capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this Commonwealth.” Pa. Const. Art. II § 7.

Inability to Serve on a Jury

You also lose the ability to sit on a Pennsylvania jury if convicted of any offense punishable by more than one year in prison if the state fails to grant you amnesty or a pardon. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 4502(a)(3).

Inability to Possess or Own a Firearm

Convicted felons also lose the ability to own, possess, use, control, sell, buy, or transfer firearms. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 6105.

Criminal Record Expungement

Expungement in Pennsylvania removes a criminal charge, arrest record, indictment, or other documents from the public record and the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Repository.

Do I Need an Expungement (or a Pardon)?

Being granted an expungement or a pardon will have major benefits to a person trying to move forward in life.  Expunging your criminal record can positively benefit your future education, employment, and involvement in the community, but in certain instances, being granted a pardon may be a necessary step to:

  • Be able to possess or own a firearm;
  • Be eligible for professional licenses and certifications;
  • Become eligible for student loans;
  • Be able to hold public office.

If you expunge your record, you may:

  • Tell employers and others that you've never been convicted (in most instances);
  • Gain admission to colleges, universities, and professional schools that might otherwise deny you admission based on your criminal record.

Once you complete your sentence in Pennsylvania, you can vote and serve on a jury once again, and although an expungement (or pardon) can help in other ways, it would not be a necessary step to restore these rights.

What Crimes Can a Court Expunge in Pennsylvania?

While a court may not expunge all Pennsylvania crimes, there are specific circumstances under which you may have your criminal records removed, sealed, or allow only limited access.

  1. Not Convicted

You may apply to have your record expunged if:

  • The police arrested you; but
  • No court convicted you of a crime;
  • The court did not dispose of your case within 18 months of the arrest; and
  • There are no pending criminal proceedings against you.

See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019).

  1. Purchase, Consumption, or Possession of Alcohol

If you were 18 years or older and convicted of section 6308, have completed all the terms of your sentence, and are now 21 years or older, you may have your record expunged. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019).

  1. Offenses Resolved Through Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition

If you completed an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program for a crime that was not related to a sex crime against a minor, you might qualify for expungement. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019); 234 Pa.C.R. 320.

  1. Other Offenses

For other offenses, you may qualify for criminal record expungement if:

  • You committed a summary offense, a lower-level offense usually punished by a fine and no more than 90 days in jail, and at least five years have passed since the criminal proceedings against you;
  • You are at least 70 years old, and ten years have passed since the criminal proceedings against you;
  • The subject of the criminal record has been dead for at least three years.

Sex crimes against a minor are never eligible for expungement.

You can also have your records expunged if granted a Governor's pardon.

What is the Expungement Process?

  1. Get a Copy of Your Rap Sheet

To start the expungement process, you will first need to obtain a copy of your criminal record. Your petition for expungement asks for personal information like name and social security number, but it also asks for your charged offenses, docket numbers, tracking numbers, and case disposition. All of this information will help the court see your entire record and determine what records to expunge if the court grants your request.

  1. Complete the Petition for Expungement

For “summary offenses,” violations, or infractions that did not require a jury, you will complete a form according to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 490. For misdemeanor or felony convictions, you will complete a form under Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 790.

  1. Attend the Hearing

After filing your petition, the court will schedule a hearing with a judge. The judge will determine whether or not to grant your petition, considering factors such as:

  • Your earning capacity, how you earn your living, and whether your record impacts that;
  • The nature and seriousness of your offense;
  • Damage to your reputation;
  • Your prior criminal history, if any; and
  • Whether preserving your record will protect the public.
  1. Expungement Order

If the judge agrees to expunge your record, they will sign an expungement order. The order will list the specific records to remove and the agencies that should receive the order. The order also requires that the FBI return records to state agencies for destruction.

Can I Expunge a Juvenile Record?

Pennsylvania does allow expungement of juvenile offenses, including summary offenses. You must fall into one of five categories:

  1. It has been six months since you completed an informal adjustment, and you do not have any pending criminal actions against you.
  2. It's been six months since your final discharge from supervision after a consent decree or diversion program, and you have no criminal convictions or adjudications pending against you.
  3. You are 18 or older, and it has been at least six months since you completed all conditions of a summary conviction committed while you were under 18; you haven't been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor or adjudicated delinquent; and you have no pending delinquency, misdemeanor, or felony charges.
  4. It's been five years since your final disposition and referral discharge, you haven't been adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, and you don't have any pending delinquency, felony, or misdemeanor charges against you.
  5. The district attorney agrees to the expungement. The DA will consider:
  • The offense type;
  • Your age, employment history, and criminal activity;
  • Any alcohol or drug problems you may have;
  • Adverse consequences if the DA doesn't grant expungement; and
  • Whether the public is at risk if the court expunges your record.

Criminal Record Sealing

Criminal record sealing in Pennsylvania is also called Act 5 and can be used to seal misdemeanor offenses more than ten years old if you haven't had any disqualifying offenses. You do not have to reveal a sealed criminal record to most employers.

Benefits of Criminal Record Sealing

While sealing your record will not help you regain lost privileges, it may help you in your future employment endeavors. In most cases, sealing prohibits Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies from revealing your criminal record. You will not be legally required to disclose your sealed record to most employers.

What Crimes Qualify for Automatic Sealing?

In June of 2019, some crimes became eligible for automatic sealing under Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Act of 2018. Records automatically sealed will include:

  • Criminal arrests with no conviction;
  • Charges where someone was found not guilty;
  • Nonviolent criminal convictions that are ten years or older; and
  • Misdemeanor offenses that involved less than two years in prison.

Serious crimes such as sexual assault, homicide, child endangerment, sex crimes against a child, and other violent crimes are not eligible to be sealed.

While the state will remove these records from state criminal databases, they will still exist. Law enforcement agencies, employers that must consider criminal histories under federal law, and those who use FBI background checks can still see sealed criminal records. However, routine employer, landlord, and other background checks will not contain these criminal records, and applicants will not be legally required to disclose them.

Limited Access Petition

In Pennsylvania, for some crimes, you may be able to petition for a court order to have limited access to your records. An order for limited access will effectively seal access to your records, and criminal justice agencies can no longer disclose your criminal record to the public.

Eligibility for Limited Access

You may file a petition for limited access if a court convicted you of a first, second, or third-degree misdemeanor or an ungraded offense with a maximum of five years in prison as punishment. Additionally, you must:

  • Wait ten years after completing your sentence before you can apply;
  • During your ten-year waiting period, you may not have been arrested or prosecuted for any crime punishable by a year or more in prison.

Disqualification for Limited Access

Some criminal records are never eligible for limited access restrictions, including murder, a first-degree felony, or an offense punishable by more than 20 years in prison. Some first-degree misdemeanor crimes cannot be sealed, including:

  • An offense that involved a danger to another person, like assault;
  • Offenses against your family, including bigamy, incest, and child endangerment;
  • Firearms offenses;
  • Dangerous weapons offenses; and
  • Corruption of minor offenses, including truancy and statutory rape;

You cannot petition for limited access if, in the last 20 years, a court convicted you of four or more offenses punishable by two years or more in prison or any of the following crimes punishable by seven or more years in prison:

  • An offense involving danger to a person;
  • An Offense against your family;
  • A firearms offense;
  • A dangerous weapons offense; or
  • Sex offenses and sex registration violations;

Finally, the following offenses disqualify you from record sealing or filing a petition for limited access if a court convicted you in the last 15 years:

  • Indecent exposure;
  • Sexual intercourse with an animal;
  • Failure to register as a sex offender;
  • Abuse of a corpse;
  • Engaging in paramilitary training;
  • Introducing or possessing a weapon in a jail, prison, or mental hospital; or
  • Two or more offenses punishable by two or more years in prison.

Expungement, Sealing, and Employment

In Pennsylvania, expunging or sealing your record may help you with future employment. Expungement removes your criminal and arrest record from public records as well as the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Repository. However, your record will remain in the FBI database, and it may stay in some private databases. Similarly, sealing your record will prohibit law enforcement agencies from disclosing your criminal records in most employment situations.

It's important to remember that, while your records may be removed or sealed from databases, they do still exist. Law enforcement agencies can still access your record, and employers must inquire into your criminal background by federal law. So, if you plan to enlist in the military, obtain a security clearance, or become a law enforcement officer, your record will still be seen. In these specific instances, you will need to disclose your record in advance to prospective employers.

Moreover, many professional licensing boards, such as the Pennsylvania Bar, the licensing authorities for doctors, nurses, accountants, and so forth, require that you reveal your entire criminal and arrest history, regardless of whether your records were expunged or sealed. The best way to protect your records and regain your maximum future potential is to consult a skilled Pennsylvania expungement attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is an experienced criminal defense attorney and he has personally helped thousands of people clear their records through the expungement, record sealing, and pardon process - He can help. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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