Having a criminal record can result in a wide range of repercussions for years to come—even affecting what type of employment you can have. In Pennsylvania, anyone applying for professional licensing or a job as a social worker must submit to a criminal background check. Depending on what is on your record, the results could impact your ability to have a social worker license or get hired in this profession. All is not lost, however. The State of Pennsylvania makes it possible for certain eligible people to have their criminal records expunged, basically removing the black marks from appearing in a background check. The Lento Law Firm has compiled the following information so you can know more about the effects of a criminal record and how expungement may help.
Will I automatically be disqualified from social work in Pennsylvania because I have a criminal record?
No. Not every criminal conviction would stop you from having a social worker's license or working in this profession. It depends largely on the type of crime. The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors (the agency that issues licenses for social workers) is most concerned about “crimes of moral turpitude” appearing on your criminal record because these cast doubt on your moral character, judgment, and ethics. Examples of criminal convictions that could potentially disqualify you from social work include:
- Sex offenses
- Crimes against children
In addition, any drug-related convictions or DUIs on your record may also come under scrutiny, although these are usually considered on a case-by-case basis. Finally, if you have a criminal conviction of any kind and fail to disclose it on your application, it could be grounds to deny your license if it turns up on your background check.
What can I do if my criminal record has bad marks?
Pennsylvania law permits you to have your criminal and arrest records sealed or expunged if you fit the eligibility requirements. An expungement can be used to remove lesser criminal convictions from your record as well as arrests that did not result in convictions. For more serious offenses, your record might be sealed rather than expunged. In either case, the negative marks will no longer appear in most criminal background checks, and you're legally allowed to say you've not been arrested or convicted of a crime when applying for work or a professional license.
Expungement versus record sealing: What's the difference?
In Pennsylvania, “expungement” and “record sealing” refer to two distinct processes. Record sealing, also known as “Limited Access,” means that the records are not erased but rather removed from public records so employers cannot see them. Expungement is the process of destroying all records that are related to an arrest or charge. Both processes have the same basic result: Incriminating records won't show up in standard background checks and will only be visible to authorized personnel.
In Pennsylvania, full expungement is reserved mainly for arrests that do not result in a conviction or for other lesser offenses. Most other eligible criminal records will be sealed instead. An experienced defense lawyer can help you determine your eligibility and guide you through the petitioning process.
Which crimes are eligible for expungement, and which for record sealing?
Pennsylvania's criminal records laws have been reformed in recent years to allow for the sealing/expungement of more records. The Clean Slate Act of 2018, the most recent law change, calls for certain conviction records to be sealed automatically after a specified time period, provided that there have been no other arrests or convictions. If an eligible record is not automatically sealed, you can petition the court.
These are some examples of offenses that may be eligible for expungement (complete removal from the record):
- Arrests that don't result in a conviction (e.g., dismissed or acquitted)
- Cases in which the defendant is under an agreement to have their record expunged after completion of an ARD (Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition) program
- After five years, low-level “summary offenses” can be expunged as long as there are no further criminal arrests or convictions
- Anybody over age 70 who hasn't been charged with any crime within the last 10 years may have their record expunged.
These are some examples of offenses that could be eligible for record sealing (Limited Access):
- Summary offenses (sealed automatically after 10 Years)
- Most misdemeanors of 2nd and 3rd degree are automatically sealed after 10 years without any other criminal activity
- For other 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-degree misdemeanors, you can petition the court to seal the record 10 years after your sentence is completed.
Some offenses are not eligible to be expunged or sealed from your criminal record. These include, but are not limited to, certain felonies, sex offenses, firearms offenses, and criminal acts against children.
The list of exceptions and examples to these guidelines is extensive and complicated, so don't be discouraged if you don't see where your offense fits within the list above. Before you petition the courts to seal or expunge your record, we recommend consulting an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer who can provide advice, confirm your eligibility, and coordinate the petition process for you.
Pennsylvania Attorney for Expungement
An arrest or conviction on your criminal record can present challenges when applying for a social worker's license in Pennsylvania. However, it's not an impossible problem. Having your convictions expunged or sealed can improve your chances of being licensed and hired as a social worker. That said, petitioning for expungement can be a complicated process, and a mistake can result in denial of your request, so it's best to hire an experienced defense lawyer to help you rather than attempt to file for expungement on your own. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many of his clients take advantage of Pennsylvania's expungement laws. Don't let your criminal record become a burden on your career. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.