Why Are Expungements Denied in Pennsylvania?

When you have a criminal record, you may already know that your record can limit your career and educational options, your ability to obtain loans, and so much more. When you're first charged with a crime, it can be hard to see what might happen in the future if you don't fight a charge or agree to plead guilty. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, we're lucky enough to have a second chance in some circumstances.  

Pennsylvania law allows some people to use the legal process to clear up their criminal records, including criminal convictions and arrests. You may be eligible to expunge your record. Unfortunately, sometimes Pennsylvania courts will deny your expungement. Understanding how and why this happens can help ensure that you get your expungement application right the first time. Before you begin the process, consulting with an experienced Pennsylvania expungement attorney can also help.  

Who Can Get an Expungement? 

An expungement is a Pennsylvania court order that directs court, administrative, and law enforcement agencies to destroy all court and administrative criminal history record information related to a charge or conviction. You can only have your record expunged in Pennsylvania in six limited situations:  

A Court Didn't Convict You  

You may be eligible to expunge your record if you weren't convicted. This includes situations where: 

The police arrested you, but the court didn't convict you. 

  • There aren't any pending criminal actions against you and 
  • The court didn't dispose of your case for 18 months after your arrest.   

See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019). 

Purchasing, Consuming, or Possessing Alcohol   

If you were under 21 and convicted of purchasing, consuming, or possessing alcohol, have completed the terms of your service, and are now at least 21, you may be able to have your record expunged. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019). 

Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition  

The Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program is a diversionary program often used to resolve DUI cases. If you completed the ARD program and the crime wasn't related to a sex crime against a minor, you may be able to apply for expungement. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019); 234 Pa.C.R. 320

Other Criminal Offenses 

Some other criminal offenses may also qualify for expungement, including if: 

  • You committed a summary offense, and at least five years have passed since the criminal proceedings, 
  • At least ten years passed, and you are at least 70, or 
  • The person with the criminal record has been dead for at least three years.   

Summary offenses are typically minor offenses involving things like underage drinking, shoplifting, or obstructing the highway. These offenses are typically punished by a fine and no more than 90 days in jail.  

Section 17 Program 

 Similar to the ARD program, Section 17 is a diversionary program allowing you to complete your probation without a conviction or guilty plea. This program often applies to charges for possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia. Once you complete the Section 17 program, you may be eligible to expunge your record.   

Governor's Pardon 

 You are also eligible to apply for an expungement if the governor grants you a pardon. 

When Will Pennsylvania Deny an Expungement Request? 

It is possible to have an expungement denied because of a mistake. But some crimes simply aren't eligible for expungement in Pennsylvania.  

A Court Mistake 

If the court file contains inaccurate information on your criminal record, it could lead to an expungement denial. For example, if the court records show you had a misdemeanor conviction when your conviction was actually for a summary offense, the court files could simply be wrong. Before you begin the expungement application process, it's good to request a copy of your criminal record to ensure the information the court has is correct. 

An Application Mistake 

A mistake on your application, such as failing to include all your records, could lead to an expungement denial. The court may also deny your request if you include incorrect information about your conviction or arrest history. 

Public Policy 

In some cases, if the court has discretion, the judge may feel that it isn't in the best interests of society to grant your expungement. This situation could happen if you failed to show remorse or respect for the court during a hearing. 

Probation Violation 

A court could also deny your application if you failed to complete your sentence and pay all of your fines or if you violated probation. 

Your Offense Doesn't Qualify 

Serious crimes, such as felonies, don't qualify for expungement in Pennsylvania. Similarly, other crimes involving violence or firearms may also be ineligible for expungement. These crimes include: 

  • Assault, 
  • Kidnapping, 
  • Sexual assault, and 
  • Crimes involving minors.   

Your Personal History 

Even if your conviction may qualify for expungement or sealing, your personal history can also disqualify you. For example, the court won't seal a misdemeanor if: 

  • You have a conviction in the last ten years, 
  • You also have a first-degree felony conviction, 
  • You have four or more convictions in the last 20 years, 
  • You have had two or more first-degree misdemeanors in the last 15 years.   

While Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Act now allows you to expunge some of these crimes, along with your entire record, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to find out if you qualify. If you're ineligible to have your record expunged in Pennsylvania, you may be able to apply to have those sealed or request a pardon from the governor. 

Sealing a Criminal Record in Pennsylvania  

Under Pennsylvania law, you can “seal” some nonviolent misdemeanors that aren't eligible for expungement. Act 5 of 2016 expanded criminal record sealing for low-level misdemeanors after ten years of no arrests or charges. Pennsylvania courts will now also automatically seal records in some cases, including: 

  • Arrest records with no conviction, 
  • Nonviolent criminal convictions after ten years, 
  • Misdemeanor offenses that resulted in less than two years in prison, and 
  • Criminal charges if the court found you not guilty.    

Once a court seals your record, it does still exist. While you won't need to disclose your record to many employers, the police can still see them. However, these records will no longer be available to the public. 

Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney 

 You need skilled legal guidance if you're concerned about cleaning up a Pennsylvania criminal record. Determining whether you qualify for expungement, sealing, or other options can be a nuanced and complicated legal matter. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced team at the Lento Law Firm have been guiding Pennsylvanians through the expungement process for years, and 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.  

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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