Physicians are well-respected members of the community and with good reason. Many of us put our lives in physicians' hands for routine care and when our loved ones are at their most vulnerable. But physicians are human too, and they also make mistakes. Unfortunately, the high standards of the medical profession mean that a mistake could cost you your career. Fortunately, Pennsylvania offers a second chance for those with a criminal history through the process of expungement. An expungement is a court order to destroy records related to an arrest, charge, or criminal prosecution.
Expungements in Pennsylvania
Typically, you can only expunge a conviction for a summary offense or expunge records related to a summary offense, misdemeanor, or felony where no court convicted you.
1. Summary Offenses
Generally, you can expunge a summary offense conviction if you've paid your fines, completed your sentence, and haven't been arrested or prosecuted for another crime in the last five years. A summary offense is a lower-level crime, less serious than a misdemeanor or felony. The penalty for a summary offense is up to 90 days in jail or a $1,500 fine. However, most summary offense convictions result in only a fine.
You can also expunge charges for which you never faced conviction. Qualifying charges including, not guilty verdicts, withdrawn or dropped charges, nolle prose dispositions, or diversionary programs where you never faced a conviction.
Typically, you can only expunge misdemeanors and felonies in very limited circumstances. You may, however, be able to seal records if you can't expunge them.
Sealing Records in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, you can seal criminal records if:
- You have a second or third-degree misdemeanor,
- You haven't faced arrest in the last ten years,
- You have no felony convictions, no first-degree misdemeanor convictions, and no second-degree simple assault convictions,
- You have four or fewer misdemeanor convictions, and
- You have paid all your fines and court costs.
The state will begin sealing some records automatically under Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Act of 2018, including:
- Arrests where you aren't convicted,
- Not guilty verdicts,
- Nonviolent criminal convictions at least ten years old, and
- Misdemeanor offenses that involved two years or less 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.
While sealing your records won't destroy them, it will remove them from public view in many cases. Some law enforcement agencies and employers that must consider your criminal history by law will still have access.
Licensing Issues for Doctors with Criminal Records
If you are a doctor or aspiring doctor with a criminal history, one of your biggest concerns is probably whether your arrest record can prevent you from gaining a medical license in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's State Board of Medicine is responsible for evaluating medical licensing applications. As part of your application, or after an arrest, an applicant or licensed medical professional must report any criminal charges, convictions, guilty pleas, no contest pleas, and entrance into diversionary programs to the licensing board. Even if no court convicted you or the police later dropped the charges, you must report them to the medical board.
Unfortunately, whether an arrest or conviction will cause you to lose your license or prevent you from obtaining one isn't usually cut and dried. The outcome will probably be dependent on the facts and circumstances of your case. Your best option is to consult an attorney experienced in criminal defense and licensing issues. Often, obtaining an expungement or sealing your records will help your case with the medical licensing board.
Limits on Considering Arrest Records in Pennsylvania State Licensing
In the summer of 2020, Pennsylvania enacted a sweeping new law that will change how the state performs professional licensing. With Governor Wolfe's signature, the new regulations will effectively overrule “good character” provisions in state licensing requirements for 255 occupations. The new law will prevent many professionals with medical licenses from being disqualified from the field for up to ten years. Along with other professional licensing boards, the state's Medical Board can only consider criminal records for crimes that are “directly related” to the occupation.
The state intended the new legislation to allow those convicted of past crimes to atone, complete their sentences, and reenter the workforce. In the past, criminal convictions unrelated to the medical field have eliminated talented professionals from the field. To attain these goals, the state licensing board released guidance for medical professionals with criminal convictions. If you're concerned about whether your criminal history could prevent you from obtaining or renewing a medical license, you can request a preliminary determination from the licensing board. The Board must reply with a determination within 45 days. If you decide to pursue licensing formally, you'll have the opportunity to present evidence on your behalf.
If you have a criminal record, the Medical Board will conduct a two-part test:
- They will consult the list of criminal convictions that will or may prevent licensure,
- Then they'll conduct an “individualized assessment” before deciding whether they will license an applicant in Pennsylvania.
1. Criminal Convictions That May Prevent Licensure
The licensing board also released a list of violent or serious crimes that typically prohibit medical licensing in Pennsylvania. The list includes, among others:
- Crimes of violence, including crimes such as murder, assault, terrorism, rape, and burglary,
- Sexual offenses, including crimes such as sexual assault, crimes involving minors, indecent assault, indecent exposure, and invasion of privacy, and
- Drug trafficking offenses, unless ten years have passed, and the applicant meets other rehabilitation progress.
While the crimes above may still automatically ban someone from becoming a licensed medical provider, the document also provides a list of crimes considered “directly related” to medical practice that may prevent licensing. A “directly related” crime means that the Board believes 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 medical profession include crimes such as:
- Abuse or neglect of a care-dependent person,
- Endangering the welfare of the child,
- Failure to report suspected child abuse,
- Selling controlled substances to a dependent person,
- Unauthorized practice of medicine, and
- Crimes related to unlawful acts under the Pharmacy Act.
2. Board Conducts an Individualized Assessment
Next, the licensing board will conduct an individualized assessment to determine if licensing is appropriate. The board has the burden to establish that granting your license would “pose substantial health/safety risks or further convictions.” The factors they will consider include:
- 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.
So, while the new law does prevent a complete ban on medical licensing for those convicted of some crimes, many exceptions will still cause problems with the licensing board. Your best option is to consult a criminal defense attorney experienced with licensing issues in Pennsylvania.
Hire an Attorney Experienced in Pennsylvania Expungements
If you're a doctor or an aspiring doctor in Pennsylvania, a criminal record can end your medical career. You need to discuss your options with a skilled criminal defense attorney right away. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience helping Pennsylvania professionals, including doctors and medical students, clear their records through expungement and sealing. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today for help.