If you know you have a criminal record and you're facing a big milestone like applying for jobs, buying a house, applying for a loan, or anything that requires a background check, it's a good idea to make sure that your official criminal record is completely accurate. You don't want an unpleasant surprise to affect your job, education, or mortgage. Fortunately, if you find a mistake, it is possible to fix it under Pennsylvania law. However, the process can be tedious and complicated. An experienced Pennsylvania lawyer can help you fix any errors and advise you of your options regarding your criminal record.
How Can a Mistake on My Criminal Record Affect Me?
A criminal record can have long-lasting consequences that you may not be able to foresee. Many of us know that a felony conviction can prevent you from voting, owning a firearm, holding many jobs, renting an apartment, obtaining a mortgage, or gaining college admission. But misdemeanor convictions can also have lasting consequences, preventing you from working in some professions like finance, law enforcement, or those requiring professional licenses. Misdemeanor convictions can also keep you from obtaining a security clearance, affect child custody and visitation matters, and keep you from getting a loan.
In some rare cases, you may be the victim of criminal identity theft, where someone legitimately arrested for a crime gives your name, information, and social security at the time of the arrest. A mistake on your criminal records, like a conviction listed as a misdemeanor rather than a summary offense, a misdemeanor listed as a felony, or criminal identity theft, can affect you in many aspects of your life.
Requesting Your Criminal Record in Pennsylvania
You can do an online check of your criminal record through the Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History (PATCH) website. The state created the PATCH site under Pennsylvania's Criminal History Information Act to allow the public to obtain criminal history checks. To obtain a notarized copy of your criminal record, you'll need to make a request by mail. You'll download the form online and mail it with a certified check or money order to:
Pennsylvania State Police Repository
164 1800 Elmerton Ave.
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9758
If you find an error, Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies have a legal obligation to fix it once you notify them. However, you may need to provide proof in the form of certified court records to show that your official record is incorrect. The burden to correct your criminal record is on you or your attorney. So, if you find an error in your record, you may need to request records from the appropriate court.
Obtaining Court Records in Pennsylvania
To correct an error in an electronic case record, your attorney will need to send a written request to the court that filed the record. 204 Pa. C.S.A. § 213.78 (2019). To correct an error in a case record in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia Municipal Court, or a Magisterial District Court, your attorney will need to submit the form published by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to the clerk of the appropriate court. See id. Under the law, the clerk of court has ten days from receiving the request to respond in writing that:
"a. The request does not contain sufficient information and facts to adequately determine what information is alleged to be error; accordingly, the request form is being returned to the requestor; and no further action will be taken on this matter unless the requestor resubmits the request with additional information and facts.
b. The request does not concern an electronic case record that is covered by this policy; accordingly, the request form is being returned to the requestor; no further action will be taken on this matter.
c. It has been determined that an error does exist in the electronic case record and that the information in question has been corrected.
d. It has been determined that an error does not exist in the electronic case record.
e. The request has been received and an additional period not exceeding 30 business days is necessary to complete the review of this matter." Id. § 213.78(6)(C)(5).
If the error is in the case record of the Supreme Court, Superior Court, or Commonwealth Court, your attorney will need to submit a form for “Request for Correction of Clerical Errors” to the prothonotary of the proper appellate court. See id. Once you have a court record corrected, you and your attorney can correct your official criminal record with the Pennsylvania State Police.
Correcting Criminal Identity Theft
If you find something on your criminal record that you weren't arrested for, you may be the victim of criminal identity theft. You will need an official copy of the incorrect record mailed from the Pennsylvania State Police Repository in Harrisburg to correct it. You will then need to make an appointment at the State Police barracks. Your lawyer can make this appointment through the State Police Headquarters in Harrisburg, and they will issue a letter authorizing an appointment for fingerprinting at the barracks.
After fingerprinting at the barracks, the police will compare your fingerprints with those taken at the time of the arrest. If the fingerprints show that you were not the person arrested or convicted of the offense on your criminal record, the State Police will issue a letter confirming that you were the victim of criminal identity theft. They should also fix your state criminal record. However, you should request another copy of your record to ensure the State Police made the changes.
It's important to know that these records will remain in the criminal justice system even if the State Police fix your criminal record. Law enforcement officials will still see the incorrect information. For example, if the police pull you over for a traffic stop and you have an outstanding warrant for an arrest for another person under your name, the police may arrest you. You must keep your letter from the State Police confirming criminal identity theft with you at all times. If you believe you're the victim of criminal identity theft, it's a good idea to consult an experienced Pennsylvania attorney as soon as possible. Ensuring that the state corrects your record can be a complex process, and you don't have to try to navigate this problem on your own.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Lawyer
Unfortunately, correcting your criminal record in Pennsylvania is no easy matter. Figuring out where the mistake happened and how to clean up the errors can be a bureaucratic nightmare. But you don't have to do this on your own. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team have been helping Pennsylvanians clean up their records for years, guiding people through the processes of correcting errors, expungement, and sealing. Find out how they can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation or contact them online today.