Sometimes people make mistakes, particularly when they are young. Unfortunately, while our justice system's goal is supposed to be rehabilitation, it often becomes about punishment. After a felony conviction, even for nonviolent offenses, it's difficult to get a job, rent an apartment, or get a student loan. Now, one state is looking to change that.
Mississippi lawmakers are considering a new law that would allow nonviolent felony offenders to expunge or remove felony convictions from their records. Under the proposed legislation, people with two nonviolent felony convictions could expunge them ten years after completing their sentence. In comparison, those with three convictions could expunge them 15 years after completing their sentence.
Republican representative Jansen Owen, the bill's sponsor, said Thursday that the bill “targets those people who went through a span of their life where they made a lot of wrong decisions, somebody in their 20s who got a drug conviction at 22, 24, 27 and now they're 50 and they go to church and they want a job and they want their kids to not see that they have this mark on them.” But could a law like this benefit the people of Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania Law on Expungement
An expungement is an order granted by a Pennsylvania court to destroy an individual's court and administrative criminal history record information related to a charge or conviction. In Pennsylvania, expungement is limited to certain situations:
- In cases where you weren't convicted or found guilty, and the prosecution withdrew the charges, the court dismissed the charges, or the court entered a nolle prose disposition.
- Underage drinking convictions at age 21 after completing all court-ordered requirements.
- Summary or minor offenses that aren't misdemeanors or felonies, if you've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years.
You cannot expunge felonies in Pennsylvania unless you are 70 years of age or the person is deceased and other conditions are met. To seek relief when a person has a felony on their criminal and the above do not apply, a pardon is the only realistic way to get relief. That being said, a pardon itself will not expunge a person's record. A pardon will restore a person's rights as if they were never convicted, but an expungement would have to be thereafter sought to expunge the actual record. An expungement would be more or less a formality at that point if an expungement is granted, however.
Because felony convictions can have lifelong consequences, legislators in Pennsylvania are aware of the need for more forgiveness. In 2019, the state began automatically sealing records that are more than ten years old if they meet the law's requirements. Moreover, under Act 5 of 2016, you can have some nonviolent misdemeanors “sealed” after ten years of no arrests or charges. The courts will now automatically seal some records, including:
- Criminal arrests if you were never convicted
- Charges where the court or jury found you not guilty
- Nonviolent criminal convictions that are ten years or older
- Misdemeanor offenses that involved fewer than two years in prison
In addition, as of July 1, 2020, some occupational licensing boards can no longer consider applicants' criminal records unless the crime is directly related to their licensed profession.
Expungements in the Future
Mississippi's proposed law recognizes a growing national trend of changing expungement laws to allow more forgiveness for those who've completed nonviolent sentences. In the last few years, New Jersey, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Nebraska, Colorado, Michigan, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming have all passed laws allowing easier expungement or sealing of adult and juvenile records. Hopefully, Pennsylvania will continue the trend.
If you need options after a Pennsylvania conviction, attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can work quickly and efficiently to protect your rights and clear your record, whether that involves an expungement, record sealing, or pardon. Call 888.535.3686 today to schedule a consultation. Attorney Joseph D. Lento fights hard for his clients. He can help you too.