Mistakes happen. We've all made mistakes in the past, but sometimes a youthful mistake, a disagreement, or a misunderstanding can escalate into an arrest. But once you have an arrest or criminal record, you can find a simple mistake that follows you for years. A criminal record can limit your career prospects, your education, and even whether you can rent an apartment or obtain a mortgage. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, we believe in second chances. Under Pennsylvania law, you may have a few options to clean up your record, depending on the severity of your criminal conviction.
Expungements in Pennsylvania
An expungement is a court order to destroy your administrative arrest and criminal records related to a specific offense. While expungements are a good option for charges that didn't result in a conviction or lower-level crimes, an expungement may not be available to you for more serious crimes.
Pennsylvania has three criminal offense classifications: summary offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies. A summary conviction is a lower-level criminal offense that usually results in a fine rather than jail time. However, the maximum penalty for a summary offense is 90 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. Both misdemeanor and felony convictions can result in jail times and fines. But felonies are the most serious criminal offenses in Pennsylvania and are more likely to carry prison time and hefty fines after a conviction.
Expungement is a useful tool to clean up a criminal or arrest record, but it is only available in limited situations:
- Offenses where you were charged but not convicted of a crime, including withdrawn or dismissed charges, not guilty verdicts, and nolle prose dispositions
- Drinking convictions from under age 21 if you've completed your court-ordered requirements and are now 21
- Other offenses including summary convictions, which are minor offenses below the level of a misdemeanor or felony if you haven't faced arrest or prosecution in the last five years
- Offenses that were resolved through Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) programs
- Section 17 diversionary offenses such as possession of marijuana or paraphernalia
- You are at least 70 years old, and ten years have passed since your criminal proceedings
- The subject of the record has been dead for at least three years
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania law only allows you to expunge misdemeanor or felony convictions in limited situations, and expungements for many serious crimes are limited. However, even if you aren't eligible for an expungement, you may be eligible to seal your record instead. An experienced Pennsylvania expungement attorney can review your options and advise you on the best course of action to clean up your record.
Act 5 Sealing of Criminal Records in Pennsylvania
Unfortunately, you can't expunge a crime that rises to the level of a misdemeanor or a felony. However, you may be able to seal some records of nonviolent criminal convictions, including drug-related convictions, under Pennsylvania's Act 5 of 2016. Sealing your record will not destroy your existing records like an expungement, but it will remove them from public view. Only law enforcement and those with a serious need will be able to view your sealed records.
You may qualify to seal your records under Pennsylvania law if:
- You haven't been arrested in the last ten years
- Your record includes only second-degree or third-degree misdemeanor convictions
- You don't have a felony conviction, a conviction for a first-degree misdemeanor, or a second-degree misdemeanor conviction for simple assault
- You completed your entire sentence, and you've paid all of your court-imposed fines and costs
- You don't have more than three misdemeanor convictions
Clean Slate Sealing in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law now allows the state to automatically seal some records under the Clean Slate Act of 2018. The state will automatically seal:
- Charges that didn't end in a conviction or where you were found not guilty
- Nonviolent criminal convictions if it has been ten years since you completed your sentence
- Misdemeanor convictions that resulted in less than two years of incarceration
It's important to understand that sealed records will still exist, even if they aren't available to the public. An employer that uses FBI background checks may still be able to access your records through the FBI National Criminal Database. However, most routine background checks, like those competed by landlords and most employers, won't contain your sealed records or convictions. Moreover, you aren't required to disclose sealed records in most cases.
Expunging Juvenile Records by Offense
In many cases, you may be able to expunge juvenile offenses, including summary convictions. To qualify, you must fall into one of five categories:
- You don't have any pending criminal offenses against you, and it's been at least six months since you completed an informal adjustment in juvenile court.
- You don't have any criminal actions pending against you, and it's been at least six months since the court discharged you from supervision after a consent decree or diversion program.
- You are now at least 18 and:
- You weren't convicted of a felony or misdemeanor or adjudicated delinquent
- It's been at least six months since completing the conditions of your juvenile summary conviction
- You don't have any pending delinquency, misdemeanor, or felony charges against you
- You don't have any pending charges against you, it's been at least five years since your final disposition and referral discharge, and you weren't convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor, or adjudicated delinquent.
- The district attorney consents to your expungement. In considering the matter, the DA will consider:
- Your offense and its severity
- Your criminal history, age, educational or employment history
- Your history of drug or alcohol problems, if any
- The consequences to you and your future if the DA doesn't agree to the expungement
- Whether your convictions indicate the public may be at risk if the court expunges your records
Why Hire an Expungement Attorney?
At the time of a conviction, many people are more concerned about the immediate consequences like possible jail time and fines. But a criminal conviction can continue to follow you for years, affecting your future career and educational prospects. An expungement can help clean up your record, ensuring you have a second chance. After an expungement, you may:
- Become eligible for some student loans
- Be eligible for admittance to colleges, universities, and professional programs where you might otherwise be ineligible with a criminal record
- Be eligible to buy, possess, or own a firearm
- Be eligible to hold public office
- Be eligible to hold some professional licenses and certifications
- Tell potential employers that you've never had a criminal conviction
While you don't have to hire an attorney to petition to expunge your record, the process is complex, with many options depending on the conviction type, how long your sentence, and the length of time it's been since you completed restitution. The expungement process can also be paperwork intensive. And while the state is attempting to streamline the process, they still have far to go. Hiring an experienced attorney can make the process faster and more efficient, ensuring you get your record cleaned up as quickly as possible.
Expungement Specific Crimes
If you're concerned about whether you can expunge a specific crime for which you have a conviction in Pennsylvania, experienced expungement attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. Some examples of offenses where the skilled attorneys at the Lento Law Firm can help or advise include:
- Animal Neglect or Cruelty
- Arson & Dangerous Burning Expungement
- Assault Expungements
- Bounced Check Expungement
- Buying Tobacco as a Minor Expungement
- Criminal Mischief Expungement
- Disorderly Conduct Expungement
- Fake ID Expungement
- Firearms Expungements
- Harassment Expungement
- Library Book Theft Expungement
- Lying About Your Age to Buy Alcohol
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol Expungement
- Providing Nonalcoholic Beverages to Minors
- Public Drunkenness Expungement
- Shoplifting Expungement
- Tobacco Use in School Expungement
- Trespassing Expungement
You Need an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
Determining whether you are eligible to expunge or seal your record under Pennsylvania law can be challenging. A Pennsylvania attorney well versed in expungements and sealing can help you determine the best course of action and make the process as efficient as possible. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping Pennsylvanians through the expungement and sealing process for years. Find out how they can help you. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation or contact them online today.