In 2018, Pennsylvania passed its Clean Slate legislation ("Clean Slate"). Under the law, legislators added first-degree misdemeanor offenses punishable by imprisonment of no more than 2 years and upgraded offenses carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison to the list of convictions eligible to be sealed by PA courts. The law also provided for the automated sealing of second-and third-degree misdemeanor offenses after a 10-year waiting period.
In 2020, PA legislators updated Clean Slate by amending the financial requirement. Before this amendment, a petitioner had to pay all court-mandated fines and penalties to be eligible for a sealing of their record. With the 2020 update, the legislature limited the financial obligation to the payment of court-ordered restitution.
Though lawmakers passed these Clean Slate bills intending to make it easier for citizens to clear their records, the law needs to go further to have the desired effect. To date, Clean Slate is still the 6th most restrictive expungement law in the country.
Limited Access to Expungement
One reason PA ranks among the most restrictive states when it comes to clearing criminal records is the limited availability of expungements. With an expungement, the court fully destroys your criminal record so that no one can see it, not even law enforcement or a judge. When the court seals your record, it is closed off from public view but not destroyed.
In Pennsylvania, expungements of convictions are generally only available in two common circumstances which would realistically allow a person to seek an expungement:
- for convictions related to summary offenses (like retail theft, disorderly conduct, harassment, loitering, and so forth) after 5 years have passed and the person has remained arrest and prosecution-free, and
- for petitioners who are 70-years-old or older and have remained arrest-free for 10 years since their convictions.
The other circumstances where an expungement can take place is when a person is deceased and the person's estate petitions the court for an expungement after the proscribed waiting period, or if the person was found not guilty or the criminal charges were dismissed for example. Everyone else has to find a different path to clearing their record in the state.
Long Waiting Periods
Another reason PA record relief laws are some of the most restrictive are the waiting periods. Citizens with criminal records must wait 10 years and be free of any convictions punishable by a term of imprisonment for 1 year or more during that time for their records to be sealed by the court. Petitioners convicted of low-level summary offenses like disorderly conduct and trespassing have to wait 5 years to be expungement eligible.
Consequences of Waiting Periods
A criminal record doesn't just stop you from getting a job. It can also block your access to professional licenses and certifications, student loans and grants, adopting a child, and housing. These consequences are most pronounced among minorities and the poor. Studies show they are at higher risk of experiencing adverse effects because of their record.
There are also consequences to the community. A recent report found that helping 100 formerly incarcerated individuals find jobs would add $1.9 million in taxable wage contributions and $800,000 in additional sales tax revenues over the employees' lifetimes. That means more revenue for community programs and benefits. Without shortening the expungement and record-sealing waiting periods, lawmakers are shutting off local government access to these funds.
Getting Help With Clearing Your Record
Although PA legislators have more work to do when it comes to expungements, there are pathways to clearing your record if you know where to look and have the strategies to get there. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience pursuing all avenues to clear his client's criminal records no matter their circumstances. If you are ready to clear your PA record, call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-5336 today.