Having a criminal conviction on your record can negatively impact your life long after you have discharged your sentence. Even having an arrest without a conviction on your record can cause problems. Thankfully, many types of less serious criminal convictions can be expunged in Pennsylvania. If you have a criminal record, the legal team at DiCindio Law can help you to understand whether the expungement of your record might be an option.
What does expungement or sealing of your record mean?
Under Pennsylvania law, expungement or the sealing of a criminal record can occur when a judge issues an order limiting access to your record. Record sealing and expungement are two separate processes. However, if your record is expunged or sealed, most prospective employers that conduct background checks will be unable to access the information that has been expunged or sealed. In some cases, you may also be legally entitled to deny that you have been convicted or arrested.
An expungement occurs when a court orders the expungement of a person’s criminal record. This process is authorized under Pa. C.S.A. § 9122. When this type of order is issued, the entry of conviction will be physically removed from the criminal record. However, the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository and the prosecuting attorney will retain copies. The confidentiality of the expunged records will be protected, and the records will only be able to be viewed by law enforcement agencies and the courts on their request. For others, it will be like the incident never occurred.
When a record is sealed under a judge’s order of limited access, the record will not be physically destroyed. Sealed criminal records under limited access do not allow the general public, including private employers and landlords, to access them. Under Pa. C.S.A. § 9122.1, the only parties that can view sealed records under an order of limited access include law enforcement agencies, child protective services, and professional licensing boards.
Are certain convictions automatically expunged after a specific time?
There are not any convictions that are automatically expunged after a specific time has elapsed. Some people believe this occurs because they confuse their criminal and driving records. Unlike traffic offenses on your driving record, criminal convictions do not fall off of your criminal record. While traffic violations may no longer be considered by an insurance company after a specific period, they do not disappear. With criminal convictions, they will not fall off of your record. The only way for you to have them removed is to file a petition for an expungement.
Having a conviction or an arrest on your criminal record can cause problems when you are searching for a job or a new place to live. Criminal records can also prevent you from obtaining certain professional licenses. Expungement allows you to have certain convictions or arrests removed from your record, and record sealing under an order for limited access limits the parties that can access your records. After you have your record sealed or expunged, the general public will no longer be able to access the information.
Who can have their criminal and arrest records expunged or sealed in Pennsylvania?
While an expungement or an order for limited access can help you by cleaning up your record, not all convictions are eligible for expungement or sealing. You need to determine whether your conviction is eligible for expungement or sealing before you move forward.
What records are eligible for expungement?
Under Pennsylvania law, the following records might be eligible for expungement:
- Records of convictions for summary offenses
- Certain arrest records
- Cases that were resolved through an ARD program
- Underage consumption, purchase, or possession of alcohol
- Convictions for people who are 70 or older
Summary offenses are low-level offenses that carry the potential for a fine and up to 90 days of jail. If you have a conviction for a summary offense on your record, you may be eligible to have your record expunged. To qualify, you must not have been prosecuted or arrested for another crime for at least five years from the date of your conviction for the summary offense.
Some types of non-traffic summary offenses in Pennsylvania include the following:
- Disorderly conduct
- Shoplifting or retail theft
- Public intoxication
- False identification
Some arrest records may also be eligible for expungement. If you were arrested, and no disposition of your case is recorded within 18 months, your arrest record may be eligible for expungement. You also might be eligible to expunge your arrest record if the charges were dismissed without a conviction.
Certain types of cases that are resolved through an accelerated rehabilitative disposition or ARD program in Pennsylvania may be eligible for expungement. If you successfully completed an ARD program, you can petition the court to expunge your record. However, if you completed an ARD program for a sex offense that was committed against a minor, you are not eligible to have it expunged.
If you were convicted of the underage consumption, purchase, or possession of alcohol, you may be eligible to have your record expunged. If you were younger than 21 but at least 18 and have completed all of the terms of your sentence, you are eligible to have your record expunged as long as you are now age 21 or older.
If you are 70 or older, you might also qualify for an expungement of your criminal record. To qualify, you must not have been arrested or prosecuted for another crime for at least 10 years after you were released from supervision or incarceration.
Which records are eligible to be sealed under an order for limited access?
You might be able to obtain an order of limited access if you were convicted of certain misdemeanors or ungraded offenses that carry a maximum potential penalty of two years of imprisonment or less. This includes convictions for second- and third-degree misdemeanors. To be eligible to have these types of convictions sealed, you cannot apply until 10 years have passed since you successfully completed all of the terms and conditions of your sentence. You also must not have been prosecuted or arrested for another crime during the waiting period.
Certain types of criminal records cannot ever be sealed under an order for limited access. Some examples include criminal convictions for impersonating public officials, witness or victim intimidation, and offenses that require you to register as a sex offender.
How do you get an expungement or a record sealing order for limited access?
If your criminal or arrest record is eligible for sealing or expungement, you must complete a petition to expunge your record or a petition for an order of limited access. This petition must be filed in the court that handled your case. When you complete the petition, you will be required to include personal information about you and information about each record that you want the court to order expunged or sealed. If you need copies of the records that are related to your case, contact the court or the arresting agency to request them.
You can find petition forms on the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania’s website. There are multiple forms on the website, so you will need to make certain to select the one that applies to your case.
Is it easier to obtain an expungement or record sealing of certain convictions than others?
Low-level offenses are much easier to expunge or seal because they are not as stigmatized as higher-level offenses. Courts are prohibited from expunging the records of people who have completed an ARD program for the following types of offenses when the victim was under the age of 18:
- Rape under Pa. C.S.A. § 3121
- Statutory sexual assault under Pa. C.S.A. § 3122.1
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse under Pa. C.S.A. § 3123
- Sexual assault under Pa. C.S.A. § 3124.1
- Aggravated indecent assault under Pa. C.S.A. § 3125
- Indecent exposure under Pa. C.S.A. § 3126
- Prostitution and related offenses under Pa. C.S.A. § 5902(b)
- Obscene materials and performances under Pa. C.S.A. § 5903
Offenses that are not eligible to be sealed under a record of limited access include the following:
- Offenses that involve danger to a victim carrying more than two years of imprisonment
- Offenses against the family that carry more than two years of imprisonment
- Offenses related to firearms and other dangerous weapons that carry more than two years of imprisonment
- Tiered sexual offenses as found in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9799.14
- Sexual offenses that require sex offender registration under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9799.55
- Corruption of a minor under Pa. C.S.A. § 6301(a)(1)
- Murder offenses
- First-degree felony offenses
- Offenses that carry potential sentences of 20 years or more
- Certain convictions in the past 20 years for offenses carrying seven or more years
- Four or more offenses that are punishable by two or more years in prison
- People who have been convicted of two or more offenses carrying two or more years in prison within the last 15 years
- Indecent exposure conviction within the past 15 years
- Sexual intercourse with an animal conviction within the past 15 years
- Failing to comply with registration requirements within the last 15 years
- Offenses within the past 15 years of having implements of escape or weapons
- Offense within the past 15 years for abuse of a corpse
- Offense for paramilitary training within the past 15 years
How does a criminal record impact an expungement or record-sealing petition?
If your offense of conviction occurred within the applicable waiting period, you cannot apply for a petition to have it expunged. If you have been arrested or prosecuted for other crimes during the waiting period, you also are ineligible to file a petition for expungement or record sealing. If you have charges currently pending against you, you cannot file a petition to expunge or seal your record. Finally, if you were convicted of one of the offenses for which expungement or record sealing is not available, you cannot file a petition for expungement. An attorney can help you to determine whether you are eligible to file a petition for expungement or for your record to be sealed under an order of limited access.
Common misconceptions about the expungement process in Pennsylvania
Some people believe that after an expungement order is issued, their gun rights will be automatically restored. Others believe that expunged records cannot be used against them when they have subsequent criminal charges. Others believe that the expungement process is fast and that once they hire a lawyer, they will have their records expunged within a few days. Law enforcement agencies and the courts can see expunged records, and they can take them into account when you are prosecuted and convicted for a new crime. The expungement process also is not instantaneous. Instead, it must go through the court process. How fast the court process might take will depend on the court’s docket and scheduling availability.
Get help from DiCindio Law
The expungement and record-sealing laws in Pennsylvania are complicated. If you are unsure whether your record is eligible for expungement or record sealing under an order for limited access, you might want to talk to an experienced attorney at DiCindio Law. We can help you to understand the options that you might have. If you appear to be eligible to have your record expunged or sealed, we can help you to draft and file the petition and guide you through the process. Schedule a confidential consultation today by calling 610.430.3535 or by filling out our online contact form.
The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes to the law that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments or the most complete legal issues for all cases These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended solely for informational purposes.