Nursing is a noble profession. Among all professionals, people look up to nurses as medical professionals with the highest ethical standards. We trust nurses because not many people enter the career unless they truly want to help others. But nurses, and aspiring nurses, are people too, and they make mistakes. Unfortunately, sometimes mistakes – like a criminal record – can keep you from meeting your professional goals.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania law offers a second chance for some people with criminal records through the process of expungement. An expungement is an order from a Pennsylvania court to remove or destroy administrative or court records relating to an arrest, charge, or conviction. While expungements are available in limited circumstances, if you don't qualify to expunge your record, you may be able to seal it instead.
Expungements in Pennsylvania
Generally, you can expunge a conviction for a summary offense or records related to a summary offense, misdemeanor, or felony if a court never convicted you.
In Pennsylvania, you can typically expunge a conviction for a summary offense as long as you've completed your sentence, paid your fines, and have remained arrest and prosecution free for the last five years. A summary offense is a crime considered less serious than a misdemeanor or a felony in Pennsylvania. The penalty for a summary offense is limited to up to 90 days in jail or a $1,500 fine. However, the penalty for a summary offense conviction is usually only a fine.
You can also expunge charges for which you never faced conviction. Qualifying charges include:
- Charges that resulted in a not-guilty verdict,
- Charges the prosecutor withdrew or dropped,
- Nolle prose dispositions, or
- Diversionary programs where you completed probation without conviction.
You cannot expunge Pennsylvania misdemeanor or felony convictions except in very limited circumstances.
Sealing Records in Pennsylvania
If you don't qualify for an expungement because of misdemeanor or felony convictions, you may qualify to seal your records. Typically, you can seal your records if:
- A court convicted you of a second or third-degree misdemeanor,
- You haven't been arrested in the last ten years,
- You have no felony convictions, first-degree misdemeanor convictions, or second-degree simple assault convictions,
- You have fewer than four misdemeanor convictions, and
- You paid all fines and court costs.
Under Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Act of 2018, the state will begin sealing some records automatically, including:
- Arrests with no conviction,
- Not guilty verdicts,
- Nonviolent criminal convictions more than ten years old, and
- Misdemeanor offenses for fewer than two years in prison.
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.
Sealing your record doesn't destroy them, and they will still be available to some agencies and potential employers, but they will no longer be accessible to the public. In many cases, you will no longer need to disclose sealed criminal records.
Licensing Issues for Nurses with Criminal Records
One of the biggest concerns for nurses or aspiring nurses with a criminal record is whether it will prevent them from becoming fully licensed. Unfortunately, this still depends on your case's facts and circumstances, and you will probably need to consult with an attorney.
The American Nursing Association develops the Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice that includes the standards of professionalism for all nurses, including good character and the highest ethics. It requires all nurses to meet standards of professional conduct. Most states, including Pennsylvania, look to these standards when developing state licensing standards for nurses.
Pennsylvania's State Board of Nursing is responsible for evaluating licensure applications, issuing and renewing licenses, taking disciplinary actions, and authorizing licensing exams. A graduate of an approved nursing program completes an application, including a criminal background check and an application fee, before taking a licensing exam.
- Disclosing Criminal Charges
As part of the approval or renewal of a nursing license in Pennsylvania, applicants must report any criminal charges the nurse has pending, any criminal conviction, any guilty plea, or any non contendere or no contest plea, as well as any admission into a diversionary program that involves probation rather than a guilty plea. The nurse must:
Disclose any discipline imposed by a state licensing board on any nursing or allied health profession license or certificate in the previous biennial period and any criminal charges pending or criminal conviction, plea of guilty or nolo contendere, or admission into a probation without verdict or accelerated rehabilitative disposition during the previous biennial period unless prior notification has been made under § 21.29a (relating to reporting of crimes and disciplinary action).
Code § 21.29 (c)(4) (2016).
- 30 Days to Notify
Moreover, a nurse must notify the State Nursing Board of any pending criminal charges, conviction, guilty plea, or admission into a diversionary program within 30 days:
(a) A registered nurse shall notify the Board of pending criminal charges within 30 days of the filing of the criminal charges or on the biennial renewal application under § 21.29(c)(4) (relating to expiration and renewal of license), whichever is sooner.
(b) A registered nurse shall notify the Board of a criminal conviction, plea of guilty or nolo contendere, or an admission into a probation without verdict or accelerated rehabilitative disposition program within 30 days of the disposition or on the biennial renewal application under § 21.29(c)(4), whichever is sooner.
49 Pa. Code § 21.29a (a-b) (2016).
While the State Nursing Board regulations don't discuss expunged or sealed records, a nurse must notify the Board about criminal charges and convictions long before it would be possible to expunge or seal a criminal record. Therefore, you can assume that you must tell Nursing Board about any charges. It is possible, however, that expunging or sealing your record can show the licensing board, as well as any current or future employer, that you take your professional responsibilities seriously and are working hard to remediate your record.
Limits on Considering Arrest Records in Pennsylvania State Licensing
In July of 2020, Governor Wolfe signed into law a new expansive regulation of Pennsylvania's new occupational licensing process. The new regulations will supersede “good character” provisions in state licensing requirements for 255 occupations. It also overturns laws that mandate disqualification from licensing for ten years for many health-related licenses. Each licensing agency can only consider criminal records for crimes that are “directly related” to the occupation. The Nursing Board will conduct a two-part test:
- First, they'll consult the list of criminal convictions that can prevent licensure,
- Second, they will conduct an “individualized assessment” to come to a licensing determination.
As a result, the state licensing board released a document with guidance for nurses with criminal convictions. The document lists violent or serious crimes that may prevent nurse licensure in Pennsylvania, including murder, assault, stalking, sexual assault, crimes involving minor children, and invasion of privacy, among others. The document also provides a list of crimes considered “directly related” to the nursing practice, including crimes such as writing bad checks, criminal mischief, robbery, theft, fraud, cruelty to animals, and drug offenses. So, while the new law does prevent a complete ban on nurse licensing for those convicted of some crimes, many exceptions will still cause problems with the licensing board.
Hire an Attorney Experienced in Pennsylvania Expungements
If you're a nurse or an aspiring nurse in Pennsylvania, a criminal record can have a devastating impact on your professional career. You need to discuss your options with a skilled criminal defense attorney right away. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have a great deal of experience helping professionals, including nurses and nursing students, clear their records through expungement and sealing. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today for help.