“Clean Slate” Law Offers Second Chance
You did the crime. You did the time. You paid restitution to your victims. Should you be burdened with a criminal record for the rest of your life? That depends upon the nature of the crime and how long it's been since you completed your sentence.
Your criminal record negatively impacts employment, housing, relationships, volunteer opportunities, and more. Your life prospects will greatly improve if you can get your misdemeanor record sealed. You would no longer be required to report your arrest or conviction in employment applications, and that career-killing information would not show up in routine background checks.
The Second Chance Law
In 2018, Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to pass a “Clean Slate” law that requires or allows certain crimes to be sealed (hidden from public view). The intent of the clean-slate law is to give low-level offenders a second chance at the opportunities life affords people without a criminal history.
As of Oct. 22, 2020, more than 36 million criminal records had been sealed in Pennsylvania since July 2019, when the law took effect. Most of those records were and continue to be automatically sealed as cases become eligible.
Sealed Does Not Mean Expunged
Expunged means the complete erasure of the record. Except in very rare instances, criminal records involving misdemeanor or felony convictions cannot be expunged. When a record is sealed, only law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges will have access to the sealed records. For most purposes, your public criminal record will cease to exist.
With a sealed record, you can honestly deny a criminal history on everything from an employment application to a declaration of political candidacy. You will not show up on background searches of public records.
There is the notable exception for applications for high-security positions and professional licensing. If you're fingerprinted for your background check, it's advisable to disclose on your application because law enforcement agencies like the FBI have access to sealed records, in addition to professional licensing boards.
What Can and Cannot Be Sealed?
Felonies and other crimes, including firearms, violence, or sex offenses requiring registration, cannot be sealed.
With no other complicating factors, 2nd- and 3rd-degree nonviolent misdemeanors such as drunk-driving, shoplifting, or prostitution disappear automatically ten years after the completion of your sentence—if there are no intervening arrests, prosecutions, or convictions. Arrests and dismissed charges also are sealed after a decade.
In between automatic sealing and absolutely not, there is a large and complicated grey area of the law. Under Act 5 limited access, certain first-degree misdemeanors and ungraded offenses can be sealed by petitioning the conviction court.
Chance of Getting a Second Chance
Success in getting your record sealed will depend on meeting the tricky legal requirements and proving to the court you have rehabilitated yourself. Negotiating the minefield of legal details and presenting your best case to the court requires legal experience and expertise.
Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 for professional legal counsel. You could have a future without the burden of a criminal past.