Everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can lead to criminal charges or problems getting or maintaining a professional license, impacting our careers, employment opportunities, and our whole lives.
With easy access to online searches and databases, anyone—including licensing agencies, employers, professional organizations, or even social and romantic contacts can quickly find embarrassing criminal records and negative professional disciplinary actions. If your chosen career is one that requires a professional license, such as nursing, dentistry, medicine, teaching, accounting, law, psychology, engineering, veterinary medicine, law, or contracting, having this information easily and publicly available can severely limit your job options.
If you have a conviction in your past and are looking for a job or career that requires a license, a Pennsylvania expungement attorney may be able to help. Depending on your situation and the type of conviction you have, an expungement attorney might be able to help clear your record. When complete, others will not see the embarrassing details of your past when running a background check, and you will, instead, be judged for the person you are today—not for the person you were when you made a bad decision or mistake.
The process for getting an expungement is fairly straightforward in Pennsylvania and, with the help of an experienced and knowledgeable expungement attorney, it can even go quite quickly. However, the availability of expungement and the time it will take will depend on your specific circumstances, so it's important that you get advice from an attorney who understands these matters and who can answer any questions you may have.
Correcting Your FBI Report
If you have been arrested or convicted in any state, you should take the time to request an official copy of your criminal record. You want to know what others will see when they do a background search on you, as is often done when you seek employment, lease an apartment, volunteer, or engage in certain public activities.
Once you have the official FBI record, look it over carefully to see if there are any mistakes or inaccuracies, particularly if it lists convictions for crimes for which you did not plead guilty. If you find an inaccuracy, you can challenge the record by contacting the agencies that originally submitted the information, such as the police department, prosecutor's office, or superior or municipal court. You should also request certified copies of your charges, indictment, judgment of conviction/disposition, or additional paperwork. If you find mistakes or other inaccuracies in these reports, you may need the assistance of a lawyer to have these items corrected.
If you find inaccuracies on your FBI report, you should send a written challenge to this address:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS)
Attention: Correspondence Group
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306
Once you have written to the Correspondence Group, they will contact the other appropriate agencies to confirm or correct the information for you. To expedite matters, you should send as much information as you can with your submission. It is especially important that you include any documents that show the final outcome of your arrest. The agents who review your submission will receive an official response from the agencies they contact stating which changes the FBI has made to your report, and they will notify you of the changes.
Expunging a Criminal Record in Pennsylvania
First of all, let's talk about expungement. What does that word mean? According to the American Bar Association:
To “expunge” is to “erase or remove completely.” In law, “expungement” is the process by which a record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from state or federal record. An expungement order directs the court to treat the criminal conviction as if it had never occurred, essentially removing it from a defendant's criminal record as well as, ideally, the public record.
It is important to clarify that expungement is not “forgiveness” for committing a crime—that is a legal pardon. Likewise, pardons are not expungements and do not require removal of a conviction from a criminal record. In the United States, pardons may be granted by public officials. The President, for example, issues pardons annually. State governors may also pardon certain defendants in their states. Expungement proceedings, however, must be ordered by a judge, or court.
Your criminal record may be expunged in Pennsylvania—that is, erased—under the following circumstances:
- You were arrested, but not convicted. If you were arrested but not convicted of a crime, and you do not have additional criminal charges pending against you, you may be able to have your arrest record expunged.
- You completed an ARD program. If you have already resolved your offenses through an Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, and your crime was not a sex crime against a minor, your criminal record will likely qualify for expungement. (Pennsylvania's expungement statute is unique, however. An expungement of an ARD is precluded if it involved a sex crime against a minor, but it would be extremely unlikely for ARD to be approved for such an offense.)
- Your offense was related to buying, consuming, or possessing alcohol. You can petition to have your record expunged if you were 18 or older when you were convicted, you are 21 or older now, and you have completed all the terms of your sentence.
- You committed a “summary offense.” You may qualify for expungement if you committed a low-level offense, also known as a summary offense, and at least five years have passed without you having any additional criminal charges.
- You are elderly. If you are at least 70 years old, and it's been at least 10 years since any criminal proceedings have been brought against you, or the subject of your criminal incident has been dead for at least three years, you may be able to have the record expunged.
Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Act of 2018
In addition to the above remedies, you may be able to take advantage of the Clean Slate Act, which was passed by the Pennsylvania State Legislature in 2018.
Under the Clean Slate Act, some criminal conviction records are eligible to be automatically sealed, beginning on June 28, 2019. The law states that certain criminal justice agencies are prevented from disclosing your criminal history record information to the public.
Getting your record sealed can truly change your life. If your record is sealed, members of the general public, including potential employers, will no longer be able to see it. You may be able to say that you were never arrested or convicted of a crime (although the answer to this question will depend on the person's particular circumstances and an attorney can help address a person's obligations regarding disclosure of past records).
The law generally applies to non-conviction records and to conviction records for second or third-degree offenses that carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison or less. You also must have satisfied all terms of any court-ordered sentence and have no misdemeanor or felony convictions within the last 10 years, though there are exceptions to this rule.
Filing a Petition for Limited Access
Since the end of 2018, Pennsylvanians have been able to file a petition for Act 5, Limited Access. This functions like the Clean Slate law but is not automatic—it has to be requested—and it applies to more offenses than Clean Slate. You may also file a petition for a court order for limited access if you were convicted of a first, second, or third-degree offense with a maximum sentence of no more than five years in prison.
Act 5 limited access allows people who have served their punishment and completed their court-ordered obligations to ask the court to seal the record so that it cannot be viewed by the public. For the record to remain sealed, the individuals must not be arrested or prosecuted for 10 years for offenses that carry at least a one-year prison sentence.
Often, records that are eligible to be automatically sealed under Clean Slate can be sealed sooner under Act 5. Also, criminal record information for certain offenses not automatically sealed under Clean Slate is eligible for sealing under Act 5.
You will not be eligible for Act 5 limited access if you were convicted of one of the following offenses:
- Crimes that involved a firearm or danger to a person or a family
- Sexual offenses that were tiered or required registering as a sexual offender
- Corruption of a minor
- Attempting, conspiring, or soliciting to commit an exempted offense
In addition, if you have been convicted of any of the following crimes, you will not be eligible for Act 5 limited access:
- Murder, first degree felonies, or offenses that are punishable with 20 or more years in prison, or
- If, in the past 20 years, you were convicted of:
- Felony crimes that involved firearms, danger to other people or families, tiered sexual offenses, or offenses that required you to register as a sex offender, or
- Four or more misdemeanors that were graded as second-degree or higher.
You will also not be eligible if, in the last 15 years, you were convicted of:
- Two or more first degree or higher misdemeanors
- Sexual intercourse with an animal, indecent exposure, failing to register as a sex offender, abuse of a corpse, weapons or implements of escape, or unlawful paramilitary training.
Experienced Representation for Criminal Record Relief
If you have a criminal record and would like to know if you can get that record expunged or sealed, you need to connect with a skilled Pennsylvania expungement lawyer, like Joseph D. Lento, as soon as possible. Contact the Lento Law Firm today to discuss your options at 888-535-3686.