Applying to college or graduate school is an exciting time. You know that education will expand your opportunities in life, and, for many, it's the start of a new journey and a new life. But if you have a criminal record, as a juvenile or as an adult, one mistake could affect your educational and career prospects. That's why it's important to understand your options and how an experienced Pennsylvania attorney may be able to help you clear your record for college admissions.
Can a Criminal Record Affect My Admission to College?
In many cases, having a criminal record can affect your ability to get into the college or graduate school of your choice. While some colleges have programs for people with criminal histories, these schools are the exception rather than the rule. Whether a criminal conviction will affect your college admissions will depend on the severity and type of crime. In Pennsylvania, there are three levels of criminal offenses, including:
- Summary Offense: A summary offense is the lowest level of crime and is typically punished by a fine. However, the maximum penalty for a summary offense is up to 90 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. Summary offenses are often called “non-traffic citations.”
- Misdemeanor: While misdemeanors are typically less serious than felonies, they can still result in jail time and hefty fines. Penalties can include up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines depending on the severity of the offense.
- Felony: A felony is the most serious classification of crime, with penalties ranging from three years to up to life in prison.
Colleges and universities typically won't deny you admission for traffic citations or non-violent summary offenses. However, if you have a conviction for a summary offense on your record, it's a good idea to consult an attorney to explore your options and get advice on whether your conviction could have future consequences with college admission and your future career.
If you have a felony or a misdemeanor conviction on your record, it may affect your ability to get into college. For misdemeanor convictions, colleges will typically look at each offense case-by-case. Many schools will need to investigate further for drug offenses, violent crimes, or sexual assault before granting you admission. Felony convictions will have the most impact on your college admission process. Most schools will be hesitant to admit any student with a felony record. Moreover, having a criminal record can affect your ability to obtain federal student aid in some situations. If you have a criminal record, it's a good idea to consult an experienced attorney.
Aren't Juvenile Records Sealed?
In Pennsylvania, while some juvenile records are shielded from public view, in many cases, they are still publicly available, including:
- If you were over 14 at the time of the offense and the offense would be a felony if committed by an adult
- You were 12 or 13 at the time of the conduct, and you were convicted of a violent crime. These crimes include murder, voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, arson, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, kidnapping, rape, robbery, or attempt or conspiracy of these crimes.
See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6308(b) (2018). Moreover, any person or agency with a legitimate interest in your court proceedings may access your records with a court order.
Can I Expunge My Criminal Record in Pennsylvania?
In some situations, Pennsylvania law allows you to expunge your criminal record. An expungement is a court order that directs the state to destroy records related to your arrest and conviction of a crime. However, expungement of your record is limited to some very specific situations, including:
- A summary offense conviction if you haven't been arrested or prosecuted in five years. A summary offense is a low-level offense typically punished by a fine, with a maximum sentence of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.
- Underage drinking convictions after completion of all court-ordered requirements and after you turn 21
- Non-convictions, such as not guilty verdicts, dismissed or dropped charges, and nolle prose dispositions where the prosecutor agreed not to pursue the charges
- Some juvenile convictions
Unfortunately, you can't typically expunge misdemeanor or felony convictions under Pennsylvania law. However, you may be eligible to seal these records in some cases. An experienced Pennsylvania attorney can evaluate your situation and advise you about your eligibility for expungement or sealing your criminal record.
Can I Expunge My Juvenile Record?
Once you or your child turn 18, you may be able to expunge your juvenile records to help with college admissions in four situations.
- If the case was dismissed or unsubstantiated: This typically happens when it's been six months since completing an informal adjustment and there's no proceeding pending, or if the state doesn't approve the written allegation for prosecution.
- It's been six months since the final discharge under a consent decree or diversionary program, you've completed all the conditions of your sentence, and you don't have any actions pending against you.
- It's been five years since the final discharge, a court hasn't subsequently convicted you, and you don't have any charges pending against you.
- If the Commonwealth's Attorney consents to the expungement before five years have passed.
Moreover, if you had an underage drinking conviction, you may expunge it if you've since reached 21 and completed all the court-ordered requirements. In some cases, the court may put forth its own motion to automatically expunge a juvenile record for any of the above reasons.
It's important to note that you can't expunge a juvenile record if you meet all the following criteria:
- You were 14 or older
- If you were an adult, the offense would be classified as rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, or an attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit one of these offenses
- The court adjudicated you delinquent for one of these offenses
If you're not eligible to expunge your juvenile record, you may be able to seal the record from public view in some cases. An experienced Pennsylvania expungement attorney can review your case, discuss your options, and help you expunge or seal your record if you're eligible.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Expungement Lawyer
If you have a criminal record and applying to college, the road can be difficult to navigate. But this isn't something you must handle on your own. At the Lento Law Firm, attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team have been guiding Pennsylvanians through cleaning up criminal records for many years. Find out if they can help you with expunging or sealing your records too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888.535.3686, or contact them online today.