If you've faced domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania, you know that it can be stressful. In today's world of online background checks, your arrest is often there for anyone to see, even if you were never convicted of the crime. Despite no finding of guilt, this arrest record can follow you for years. People will see “domestic violence” or “assault” on a background check and make unwarranted judgments. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, you may be able to expunge those arrest records.
What Is an Expungement?
An expungement is a court order directing law enforcement and judicial agencies to remove or expunge any records related to an arrest or conviction. The process can be complex, but the time can be worth it to get your life back. Before you begin the process, talk to an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to find out if you may be eligible or any alternatives you may have.
Who Is Eligible for Expungement?
Under Pennsylvania law, expungements are only allowed in very limited circumstances. For example, you may be able to expunge your record if:
- You were a juvenile
- You completed an Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, usually used to resolve DUIs. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019); 234 Pa.C.R. 320
- You completed a Section 17 diversionary program, similar to the ARD program, after a drug conviction
- You received a pardon from the governor
- You committed a summary, or low-level, offense, and it's been five years since your criminal proceedings
- Underage drinking offenses if you're now over 21
- You were arrested but never convicted of a crime. For example, if the prosecutor dropped the charges, you were found not guilty, or the state didn't pursue the charges within 18 months.
In Pennsylvania, you cannot expunge misdemeanor and felony convictions. You may be eligible to have them sealed or apply for a pardon. An experienced Pennsylvania expungement attorney can help.
Expunging Domestic Violence Charges
If no court convicted you, you might be eligible to expunge domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania. However, it won't always be an easy or automatic process. The process of expungement involves:
1. Get Your Rap Sheet
Before starting the expungement application process, you'll need a complete copy of your criminal record. The expungement application will ask for information from you, such as your name and social security number. But the petition must also include all charged offenses, the docket numbers, court tracking numbers, and the case dispositions. The court will need this information to view your record and see what records to expunge if the judge grants your application.
2. Complete the Application for Expungement
Next, you'll need to complete the expungement application. For summary offenses, low-level violations, or charges that didn't require a jury, you will is the form detailed in Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 490. For misdemeanor or felony convictions, you will use the form detailed in Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 790. An attorney can also help you ensure you have the correct form.
3. Attend the Hearing
In some cases, a court will automatically grant your expungement after reviewing your application. But in other cases, the judge may want to ask you additional questions and will set a hearing. Occasionally, the district attorney or prosecutor may also decide to contest your expungement application even if you're eligible because you weren't convicted. They may oppose your application on public policy grounds, arguing that someone accused of domestic violence shouldn't be able to conceal that history from the public. For example, if your accuser backed out and refused to testify, leading the prosecutor to drop or dismiss the charges, the DA may oppose your expungement in this situation. If the DA contests your application, the court will set a hearing in person or via video conference.
At the hearing, the judge may want to ask you more questions about your past crimes, an arrest, your rehabilitation, or why you want your records expunged. The judge will decide whether to grant your petition by looking at factors such as:
- Your job or career, salary and earning capacity, and how your record impacts that
- The details and seriousness of your record
- Whether your record causes damage to your reputation
- Whether you have any prior criminal history
- Whether public policy reasons argue in favor of preserving your record to protect the public
For formal, contested expungement hearings, your best chance of success is with an experienced criminal defense attorney, well versed in expungements, guiding you through the process.
If the judge grants your expungement application, they will sign an expungement order. This order will contain the records agencies must remove and the specific agencies that should receive the order. The expungement order will also direct the FBI to return records to state agencies for destruction.
Sealing Your Record
If you aren't eligible to expunge your record, or if the court denies your expungement application, you should consult an attorney. You may be able to “seal” your record instead. While the records will still exist and law enforcement agencies can access them, they will be removed from the public view.
In some cases, you can have records related to nonviolent misdemeanors “sealed” after ten years of no arrests or criminal charges. Pennsylvania courts will even automatically seal some records now, including:
- Arrest records if you weren't prosecuted or convicted
- Charges if a court or jury found you not guilty
- Nonviolent criminal convictions older than ten years
- Misdemeanors are punished by less than two years in prison
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have a domestic violence charge on your record, you need help removing this from your past. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced legal team at the Lento Law Firm have been guiding Pennsylvanians through the expungement and sealing processes for years. Find out how they can help you. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact them online today.