If you are looking to be a licensed nurse in Pennsylvania, then it is important that you understand how criminal convictions can affect your ability to get and/or maintain your professional license to practice. If you have a prior criminal conviction that appears on your criminal record, then getting an expungement may help you acquire or preserve your nurse's license. An expungement may also help your admission to a clinical program while in school.
All nursing licenses in Pennsylvania are issued and monitored by the State Board of Nursing. The State Board of Nursing follows a combination of licensing standards and state laws to decide who gets be awarded their nursing license. Having a prior criminal conviction appear on your criminal record can prevent you from getting your license or can result in you losing your license by the action of the State Board of Nursing. In this article, we'll discuss several important issues related to getting and keeping your nursing license, and how expungements can play a significant role.
What is an Expungement?
Expungements are the legal method to erase the record of a criminal conviction from your public criminal record. In Pennsylvania, expungement options are fairly limited; felonies cannot be expunged, nor can serious misdemeanors. To get an expungement, you will have to satisfy several eligibility requirements.
Expungement laws have expanded across the country to allow people to expunge more prior convictions in various scenarios. This trend is consistent with Pennsylvania, where expungement laws have expanded to give people more access to being able to clear or seal their criminal record if possible. It is important to verify that you can actually expunge your criminal conviction, or else you will be wasting your time.
Important Expungement Laws
Expungements in Pennsylvania are currently limited to the following scenarios:
- Once an individual has reached 70 years of age and has been arrest and prosecution free for at least ten years following his or her final release from incarceration or supervision, or
- Once an individual has been dead for three years, or
- Once an individual has been free of arrest or prosecution for five years following his or her conviction for the offense seeking expungement. (Note: Only summary offenses are eligible for expungement under this provision.)
While expungements are limited in Pennsylvania to the options listed above, the effect of an expungement in Pennsylvania is stronger than in most other states. In Pennsylvania, an expungement will:
- Remove the information so that there is no indication that the information ever existed;
- Eliminate all identifiers which could link the individual to the crime (and allowing the remaining data to be used for statistics); or
- Specific maintenance of the individual's information when he or she has successfully completed a diversion program.
Under Pennsylvania law, once a conviction has been expunged, the individual may legally deny that he or she was ever convicted. This is likely the reason why expungements under Pennsylvania law are so limited.
What is Record Sealing?
Another type of criminal record suppression exists in Pennsylvania called “sealing” your records. Under this provision, you may be eligible to have convictions for first-, second-, and third-degree misdemeanors to be sealed from public view. First-degree misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of two years or less in jail and ungraded offenses that carry a maximum penalty of up to five years in jail are potentially eligible for sealing under Pennsylvania law. Those who are seeking to have their record sealed must be crime-free for ten years and must petition the court for their record to be sealed. Felonies are not eligible for record sealing under Pennsylvania law.
Sealing your record will only result in your criminal record be sealed from public view, not destroyed like in an expungement. The records remain available on a private database that can be accessed by police, prosecutors, and other governmental agencies. State licensing agencies, such as the Board of Nursing are not permitted to consider sealed records when deciding a licensing application. If your conviction is not eligible for an expungement or a sealing, then your only other option to have your conviction removed from public view is through a pardon.
What is a Pardon?
A pardon is a removal of a conviction based on the approval or forgiveness from a head of state. If you are seeking a pardon for a conviction arising out of the state of Pennsylvania, then you must seek a pardon from the governor. Most people who receive pardons have minor convictions that are five or more years old, while those that receive pardons for more serious convictions typically wait ten years or more before they apply and are granted a pardon.
In Pennsylvania, you will first need to get past the Board of Pardons before your pardon request makes it to the governor's desk. The Board of Pardons consists of five members and they will first weigh your application to determine if you will be granted a hearing. To be granted a hearing for your pardon, you will need at least two of the five members on the board to vote in your favor. If you are serving life in prison or are currently imprisoned for an offense of violence, then you will need three of the five members of the board to vote in your favor.
If you are granted a hearing for your pardon from the Board of Pardons, then several parties will be notified of your request, including:
- You and your attorney
- The state probation and parole boards
- The prosecuting attorney of the county where your conviction occurred
- The lead judge of the county where your conviction occurred
- Any victims or survivors relating to your conviction
- The county newspaper in the county where your conviction occurred as all pardon requests must be published in the local paper prior to a hearing
Once your hearing is complete, then the Board will vote on whether they support your pardon application. If a majority of the board members (3 members) votes in your favor, then your pardon application will be sent to the Governor for review and final determination. It is important to know that if the board votes in your favor, then you simply make it to the governor's office for the governor to make the final determination of your pardon request. If you have questions about how expungement, sealing, or pardon laws might apply to you, then make sure you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Who Serves on the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons?
The members of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons all have specific backgrounds that they bring to their roles as board members. The Board of Pardons includes:
- The Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor
- The Pennsylvania Attorney General
- A licensed psychiatrist
- An expert in corrections and punishment
- A victim's rights advocate
The people in these positions changes as time passes and new administrations are voted into power in Pennsylvania, but the makeup of the board remains the same.
Requirements to be Granted a Nursing License
The Pennsylvania Board of Nursing is authorized by state law to oversee licensed nurses within the state and decide who gets to become a licensed nurse. The board was established to protect Pennsylvania residents by ensuring that nurses are competent and qualified to practice nursing. Both registered nurses and practical nurses are governed by the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing. Some of the important requirements that the board requires applicants to meet includes:
- Graduating from an approved school of professional or practical nursing
- Clear a criminal background check
- Submitting a copy of your birth certificate
- Submitting completed certification and authorization form
Pennsylvania is also now pending legislation to be part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). The NLC allows registered nurses and practical nurses to have a multistate nursing license that allows them to work in multiple member states. If Pennsylvania enacts legislation that joins the NLC, and you can't clear a criminal background check, then you will not be granted a nursing license by the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing.
All RN, PN, and LDN applicants are required to submit a criminal history record check from their current state of residence. If you are an applicant who already lives, works, or goes to school in Pennsylvania, your criminal history record check will be automatically generated with your application, so you do not have to do anything extra to complete it other than pay the required fee. If you have lived, worked, or went to school anywhere outside of Pennsylvania in the last 10 years, you will also need to submit official state criminal history record checks from every state where you have lived, worked, or went to school.
What are the Reasons that the Board May Deny a Nursing License?
The Board of Nursing must follow the rules laid out by the Pennsylvania Code at Title 49, Chapter 21. This chapter outlines the rules and requirements that every licensed nurse is expected to follow. Under this chapter, the Board has the authority to deny or revoke a nursing license for a criminal conviction. If the conviction involves drugs, moral turpitude, or something else that can affect your ability to safely practice nursing, then you can face an uphill climb to getting or keeping your license.
In the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, there is a section titled Professions and Occupations. This section outlines the rules and responsibilities of a professional board such as the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing. Specifically, under Title 63, Chapter 31, any professional licensing board, including Nursing, has the authority to refuse to grant a professional license or suspend or revoke an active license if an individual is convicted of several different types of crimes.
The Board may deny, revoke, or refuse to reinstate nursing a license for any conviction listed here. This is an extensive list that covers many different types of criminal offenses. In short, a criminal conviction can prevent you from being able to practice Nursing in Pennsylvania. If you get your conviction expunged, pardoned, or sealed then that expunged, pardoned, or sealed conviction may not be considered by a licensing board such as the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing. Make sure to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to see how an expungement may help you with your nursing license.
How a Pre-Employment Background Check Can Hurt You Even While Licensed
If you are a traveling nurse or one that may work in multiple hospitals, then you may be subject to multiple criminal background checks. If you have a positive result showing that you have a prior criminal history, then this can at the very least delay your ability to start at your new job. Certain convictions might require an expungement before you can start work at certain nursing jobs or other clinical work. Having certain convictions may prevent your ability to work in certain locations, so if you are able to get a conviction expunged, then it is in your best interests to do so. Having your criminal record cleared through an expungement is beneficial to do as soon as you are eligible. The expungement process alone might take approximately six months to process. You may not be able to wait that long once you have started your career; make sure to take care of it as soon as you can. You may be subject to rule HR 1.20 if you are a traveling nurse.
Understanding How HR 1.20 Can Affect You
Standard HR 1.20 is a rule that was made into law in 2004 by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). This rule appears in the Comprehensive Accreditation Manual for Hospitals: Official Handbook, and it requires all hospitals to run criminal background checks on all volunteers, hospital staff, as well as any students that are working there in any clinical courses. If you are seeking to start a clinical course in a hospital, they will run a criminal background check on you. If this background check shows a criminal history, then this can result in your removal from participation in that clinical class and can result in being referred to a committee for further proceedings. The committee can decide if your criminal history will result in you being dismissed as a nursing major altogether. You may be required to have your conviction expunged before you are allowed to go any further with your clinical class.
Why Drug Convictions Are Especially Important for Nursing License Applications
It is important to understand that the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing keeps a watchful eye over any applicants who have any criminal history with controlled substances. If you have ever been convicted of a drug crime, then the board may give you an especially difficult time in your application process.
The Board also requires that an applicant seeking a nursing license be of good moral character and is not a consistent drug user. This is based on the idea that individuals with a criminal past or dependency on drugs should not be put into a profession where drugs are so readily available and easily accessed by professionals such as nurses. The full Pennsylvania Board of Nursing Laws can be accessed here. Make sure to speak to an attorney with any questions.
How An Expungement Can Help You With Your Nursing License
Since the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing will likely only see your public criminal history, expungements can play a significant role in obtaining your nursing license. There are multiple potential options that exist in Pennsylvania to have your criminal record put out of the view and opinion of the State Board of Nursing as well as any other professional licensing board operated by the state. The sooner you get your expungement, seal, or pardon completed, the sooner you will be able to have a smoother licensing process.
How to Get an Official Copy of Your Criminal Record
Before you can apply for an expungement, record sealing, or pardon it is essential to determine that you are eligible to apply. The first step in doing this is getting an official government copy of your criminal record. There are countless private companies online that will sell you a background check on anyone, but the information on these reports cannot be relied on when applying for an expungement with the court. Make sure you get a copy of your criminal record from the Pennsylvania State Police. Once you get a copy of your record, then you will need to look at the conviction(s) to determine expungement, record sealing, or pardon eligibility. It is highly recommended that you have an experienced attorney's assistance in deciphering all of the information that is contained in your criminal history. Once you have confirmed that you are eligible to apply, then you are ready to submit your expungement, record sealing, or pardon petition.
Can Federal Criminal Convictions Be Expunged?
There is currently no federal expungement statute, so federal courts don't have the authority to expunge a federal criminal conviction. Each state has its own expungement rules and regulations, allowing the courts in each state the authority to expunge state criminal convictions. Incredibly, the only way to get rid of a federal conviction is through a presidential pardon. Presidential pardons are rare and usually politically motivated, so unless your case is one that would get the President's attention, a pardon might be out of reach. In short, if you have a federal criminal conviction, then it is staying on your record until the federal law changes and a federal expungement statute is passed. Federal judges have made corrections to federal criminal records when they are in fact incorrect. So, if you have a mistake on your federal criminal record, then you may be able to address this with a federal judge.
Expungement Process in Pennsylvania
Once you have determined you are eligible to get an expungement for your prior conviction(s), then your next step is to prepare an expungement petition to submit to the court. An expungement petition is expected to contain several important pieces of information regarding your conviction, including:
- Your date of birth;
- The date of your arrest;
- Any applicable state statutes;
- Any court case numbers that apply;
- The date of your conviction;
- The final disposition of the court; and
- The reason for your desired expungement.
Expungements and record sealing must take place in the county of your conviction. If you only have one conviction, then you must submit your expungement petition to the court that had your case. Once the court receives your expungement petition, then you will be assigned a hearing date to go before the judge. If the prosecutor does not voice any objections to your expungement petition, then you might be excused from even having to appear. If the prosecutor voices an objection of any kind, then you will likely have to appear in court to respond.
An example of an expungement petition for Philadelphia County can be found here. This is an expungement petition pursuant to the Criminal Procedure of Pennsylvania: form 490. This is the petition used for expungements of summary offenses.
An example of an expungement petition for Philadelphia County can be found here. This is an expungement petition pursuant to the Criminal Procedure of Pennsylvania: form 790. This is the petition for other offenses.
If the judge grants your expungement petition, then expect an order to be sent to the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository for Criminal History Information, signed by the judge stating that your conviction was expunged. This step forwards your order to the governmental agencies that maintain your record. Once they receive this order, then your previous conviction(s) will be erased from the public record. You do not have to personally take this order to any of the state agencies as it will be done for you by the court.
What Are the Collateral Benefits of Getting an Expungement, Record Sealing, or a Pardon?
Just as you will likely face several collateral consequences for having a conviction, you are also likely to reap numerous collateral benefits from getting a prior criminal conviction expunged, sealed, or pardoned. Of course, the major direct benefit of an expungement, record seal, or pardon is a clean criminal record. A clean criminal record can come with several collateral benefits, including:
- Regaining your ability to earn a professional license
- Restoring your constitutional rights to own a gun under the second amendment
- Restoring your ability to qualify for certain jobs
- Restoring your ability to have more housing choices as many landlords don't like to rent to people with criminal convictions
These are just some of the collateral benefits that come with a successful expungement, record sealing, or pardon. Clearing your criminal record can also lead to the granting or restoring of your nursing license from the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing.
What Are Some Reasons Why an Expungement, Record Sealing, or Pardon Will Be Denied?
Getting an expungement, record sealing, or pardon is not guaranteed by any means. There are several factors that go into the determination of whether someone will be granted the ability to erase a prior criminal offense from the view and scrutiny of the general public and professional licensing boards. The first step to removing a conviction is confirming eligibility.
There are several criminal offenses that simply cannot be expunged or sealed under Pennsylvania law. For example, a Pennsylvania court cannot order sealing for several criminal offenses that involve violence, guns, or sexual misconduct that carry a potential punishment of longer than two years in prison. Make sure that your conviction is eligible to be expunged or sealed or your petition will be denied by the court.
Other reasons why people are denied expungement are Incomplete expungement petitions or petitions filed before they are eligible to be filed. If the court requires additional information, then your petition can also be delayed. It is your responsibility to make sure that your expungement petition is prepared and filed correctly. If you have any legal questions about how an expungement can help you with your nursing license, call us so we can help!
Why Hiring Lento Law Firm is the Right Choice
If you are or aspire to be a licensed nurse in Pennsylvania, then don't let a criminal conviction hold you back. Sometimes, the only thing preventing someone from getting the job they always wanted is an expungement or a record sealing. Whether you are a registered nurse or a practical nurse, having an experienced expungement attorney on your side can help prevent making the mistakes that many make when applying to erase a prior conviction. It is important to understand how an expungement can help you get your nursing license. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to learn why hiring attorney Joseph D. Lento is the right choice to help you prepare and file your expungement application. You can also contact us online.