It's a long professional road to becoming a dentist. After all those years of work and study, the last thing you want is to find yourself barred from your chosen profession because of a criminal record. Everyone makes mistakes, even dentists. A criminal record can impact a professional license in many cases, with dental licensing boards automatically suspending or revoking dental licenses or refusing to issue new licenses as a result.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania understands the importance of second chances. That's why the legislature created a pathway to expunge or seal some criminal records. An expungement is an order from the court to remove or destroy administrative or court records related to an arrest, charge, or conviction.
Limits on Considering Arrest Records in Pennsylvania State Licensing
In July of last year, Pennsylvania enacted broad new legislation to dramatically change how the state performs professional licensing. The new regulations signed by Governor Wolfe will effectively overrule “good character” provisions in state licensing requirements for 255 different occupations. The new law will prevent many professionals with criminal histories in the dental field from being barred or suspended from the field. From now on, the state's Dental Board can only consider criminal records for crimes that are “directly related” to the dentistry occupation or certain violent crimes when making licensing determinations.
The legislature intended the new rules to allow those with past convictions to reenter the workforce after completing a sentence. To meet this goal, the state licensing boards issued new guidance for licensed professionals with criminal convictions. As part of this process, you can obtain a “preliminary determination” from your dental licensing board regarding any criminal charge or conviction you may already have. The licensing board will give you a preliminary decision within 45 days. Then, if you decide to proceed with an official application, you'll have the chance to offer evidence on your behalf as well. A criminal record does not mean that the board will automatically deny your application. Rather, the dental board will conduct a two-part test where they:
· Determine whether your crime is on the list of crimes that will prevent licensing, and
· Conduct an “individualized assessment” before making a final determination about whether they will license you in Pennsylvania.
1. Criminal Convictions That May Prevent Licensure
Pennsylvania's licensing boards released a list of violent or serious crimes that ban someone from obtaining a dental license in Pennsylvania. The list includes, among others:
- Violent Crimes: These crimes include crimes like murder, assault, terrorism, rape, and burglary,
- Sexual Crimes: These offenses include crimes such as sexual offenses involving minors, sexual assault, indecent exposure, indecent assault, and invasion of privacy, and
- Drug Trafficking Offenses: If an applicant meets the rehabilitation requirements and ten years have passed, these crimes may not be automatically disqualifying.
While only crimes of a serious nature may automatically disqualify you from becoming a dental provider, there are additional crimes that may disqualify you from licensing as well. The licensing board provides a list of crimes considered “directly related” to a dental practice that may prevent licensing in some cases. A crime is “directly related” to the dental profession if the licensing board feels that the criminal nature of the conduct “has a direct bearing on a person's fitness or ability to perform the tasks, duties or responsibilities necessarily related to a particular profession or occupation.”
Crimes “directly related” to the dental profession include crimes such as:
- Computer theft,
- Identity theft,
- Insurance fraud,
- Tampering with public records,
- Manufacturing or selling a controlled substance while not registered,
- Unlawful practice, and
- Obtaining possession of a controlled substance through fraud or deceit.
There is a wide range of crimes that may be directly related to the practice of dentistry.
2. Board Conducts an Individualized Assessment
The licensing board will then complete an “individualized assessment” and decide whether it's appropriate for the board to grant or renew your license. It is the board's burden to show that granting your license would “pose substantial health/safety risks or further convictions.” The licensing board considers several factors, including:
- “The facts and circumstances surrounding your conviction.
- The number of convictions you have.
- Whether the criminal conduct for which you were convicted involved an act or threat of harm against you.
- The increase in your age or maturity since your conviction.
- Your criminal history, or lack of criminal history, after the date of the conviction.
- Whether you have completed any training or education activities, such as those offered through programs within an SCI or county correctional facility.
- References from employers or others, including probation/parole officers, etc.
- Whether you can show evidence of progress in personal rehabilitation since your conviction.
- Whether you meet all of the other licensing qualifications for the type of license you are seeking.
- Any other factor which the board deems relevant, and any additional information that you may wish to provide or that the board may request.”
The new law prevents the licensing board from automatically disqualifying you from dental licensing for many crimes, but there are still many crimes that may affect your licensing. In some cases, expunging or sealing your criminal record may help the licensing process. Even though you will still need to disclose your criminal history, taking this step can show how serious you are about rehabilitation for your career.
Can Expunging Criminal History Help?
In Pennsylvania, you cannot expunge a misdemeanor or felony conviction. However, there are other situations where you can expunge a less serious conviction or expunge records related to a non-conviction. In Pennsylvania, you can expunge records for:
1. Summary Offense Convictions
A summary offense is a low-level offense, less serious than a felony or misdemeanor. The penalty for these offenses is limited to up to 90 days in jail or a $1,500 fine. However, the penalty for a conviction is usually just a fine. You can expunge a summary offense conviction if you've completed your sentence, paid your fine, and have remained arrest-free for the last five years.
2. Non-convictions for Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Summary Offenses
You can expunge non-convictions for a felony, misdemeanor, or summary offense. Non-convictions include not guilty verdicts, charges dropped by a prosecutor, charges dismissed by a judge, nolle prose dispositions, or charges where the court placed you in a diversionary program with no conviction.
In some instances the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (through the county District Attorney's Office or the Attorney's General's Office) may object to a request for relief for charges that were nolle prossed or withdrawn. An experienced attorney can help you understand the likelihood of this taking place based on your specific circumstances and they can address as needed if there is to be the prospect of an objection.
Can Sealing Records Help?
If you aren't eligible to expunge your record, you may be able to seal it. In Pennsylvania, the state will automatically seal some criminal records under the state's new Clean Slate Act of 2018, including:
- Arrests that don't result in conviction,
- Not guilty verdicts,
- Nonviolent criminal convictions older than years, and
- Misdemeanor offenses with fewer than two years in prison.
You can also apply to seal your records if:
- You only have second or third-degree misdemeanor convictions,
- You don't have any felony convictions,
- You don't have any first-degree misdemeanor convictions,
- You don't have any second-degree simple assault convictions,
- You've had no arrests in the last ten years,
- You have fewer than four misdemeanor convictions, and
- You completed your sentence, including paying fines and court costs.
Sealing your records won't destroy them, but it will remove them from public view in many situations.
In addition, certain misdemeanor convictions, such as M2 Simple Assault, can be sealed but require a sealing petition (as opposed to being automatic). If the grade says "M1" (which is a misdemeanor of the first degree), an experienced attorney can determine if you qualify for sealing. Your attorney will need to file a petition in court if you qualify.
Hire an Attorney Experienced in Pennsylvania Expungements
If you're an aspiring dentist or a practicing dentist, a criminal record can end your career in many cases. If you're concerned about obtaining your license or losing it, you need to discuss your options with a skilled criminal defense attorney right away. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience helping dentists, and other Pennsylvania professionals expunge and seal criminal records as well as assisting in licensing issues. He can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today for help.