We all like to give back to our community at many points in our lives. Whether you volunteer for a local PTA, agree to serve as a board member for a local youth sporting organization, or are in consideration for a career-advancing board position for a high-profile nonprofit, these positions can be rewarding, fulfilling, and help cement your standing in the community and your professional career. But what happens if you have a criminal background or an arrest history? Can this keep you from serving on a nonprofit board of directors?
Unfortunately, a criminal history can prevent you from serving on a nonprofit board in some circumstances. In some cases, a position on a nonprofit board for a school or other organization that regularly works with children may have stringent background checks for its board members. Board positions for sporting organizations like Little League or USA Swimming and community organizations such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts may require state or FBI criminal background checks. High-profile nonprofit boards may also be particularly careful about who they select to serve, running criminal and civil background checks on board candidates.
Disqualification From Youth-Oriented Nonprofits
Under Pennsylvania law, a criminal record may disqualify you from working for or volunteering for nonprofits serving children. Adult volunteers applying for an unpaid position with a school, childcare facility, program, activity, or service having direct contact with children must undergo a criminal background check. Moreover, the state must issue a certificate clearing each applicant.
Under Pennsylvania law, a nonprofit board may also remove a member of the board of directors if they have “been convicted of an offense punishable by imprisonment for a term of more than one year” or by the court for “fraudulent or dishonest acts, or gross abuse of authority or discretion with reference to the corporation, or for any other proper cause, and may bar from office any director so removed for a period prescribed by the court.” Pa.C.S. §§ 5726(b-c) (2013)
Fortunately, there are some options to rehabilitate your record in Pennsylvania, including expungement and record sealing. A Pennsylvania court may not expunge all criminal records, but you may be able to have your records sealed, removed, or allow only limited access in the future.
What Is Expungement?
In Pennsylvania, in some cases, you can obtain a court order to destroy all court and administrative criminal history record information related to a criminal charge or conviction. This is called an expungement.
Who Can Expunge a Record in Pennsylvania?
Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, you can only expunge a criminal record in some very limited circumstances involving non-conviction, summary offenses, and alcohol-related offenses before you were 18. You can expunge a record if:
1. You Weren't Convicted of a Crime
You might be able to expunge your record if you were never convicted of a crime, including situations when:
- The court found you not guilty
- You were arrested, but the court didn't dispose of your case within 18 months
- You were never prosecuted
- There aren't any pending charges against you
See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019).
2. Purchasing, Consuming, or Possessing Alcohol While Under 21
If you were convicted of purchasing, consuming, or possessing alcohol as an adult, but you are now 21 years or older, you may have your record expunged. You must have completed all the terms of your sentence. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019).
3. Offenses Resolved Through ARD
If you completed the Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, you might qualify for expungement. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019); 234 Pa.C.R. 320. Most cases involving ARD dispositions are related to alcohol and drugs. As long as your offense wasn't related to a sex crime against a minor, you may be able to have the offense expunged.
4. Other Convictions
For other convictions, you may be able to expunge a record if:
- Your conviction is for a summary offense, a low-level offense typically punished by a fine and not more than 90 days in jail, as long as at least five years have passed
- You are 70 or older, and it's been ten years since your conviction
- The person convicted has been dead for at least three years
5. Section 17 Diversionary Disposition
Section 17 is a program similar to ARD, allowing a diversion for probation without a conviction for marijuana or paraphernalia charges. After completing the Section 17 diversionary program, you may be able to have a court expunge your record.
You may also be able to expunge your criminal record if you obtain a pardon from the governor of Pennsylvania.
Sealing Your Record
Under Pennsylvania law, you may be able to have nonviolent misdemeanors “sealed” under Act 5 of 2016 if you aren't eligible for expungement. When the court seals your records, you don't have to disclose them to most employers. Although the police can still see them, sealed records are hidden from public view.
You may be eligible for sealing after no arrests or charges for ten years. Pennsylvania courts will now automatically seal some records, including:
- Criminal arrests with no conviction
- Not guilty findings
- Nonviolent criminal convictions older than ten years
- Misdemeanor offenses involving fewer than two years in prison
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Expungement Attorney
If you're considering a position on a nonprofit board and you have a criminal record, you should consult an experienced Pennsylvania expungement attorney. Whether you must disclose your criminal record can be a nuanced legal determination, particularly if the nonprofit serves children in Pennsylvania. Moreover, for many higher-profile nonprofit board placements, you may want to consider whether your records will appear on a general or criminal background check before you begin the interview or placement process.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled team at the Lento Law Firm have helped many Pennsylvanians navigate the expungement and sealing process for years. They can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 215-535-5353 or contact them online to set up your consultation.