What Is the Expungement Process in Pennsylvania?

January 27, 2022

expungement process

With the wide range of digital search options employers now use to screen job applicants, misdemeanors from a decade ago or even longer may come up when a person is being considered by a firm.

We live in an era in which people have lost their jobs from inappropriate social media postings. A lot of personal history can come up in a search, particularly when a security firm with expertise in how and what to look for is doing the searching. Anyone with a blip on their record, such as a conviction for driving under the influence, knows that one bad decision can make the difference between getting a job or remaining unemployed, even for first-time offenders who have not had any other convictions since. It can also impact rental and mortgage applications.

Luckily, there is a way for first-time offenders to keep those records out of reach of many who may be reviewing personal histories. The process is called expungement, and in Pennsylvania it means your criminal record is fully destroyed, so no one can see it, even the courts or police.

This process is different from sealing records. Sealing records limits access from public view, but they can still be accessed by law enforcement and certain employers, such as those that require a federal security clearance.

Whether the record is either expunged or sealed, you no longer must disclose it on housing or employment applications.

Pennsylvania’s expungement process was made available to many more residents who have been convicted of misdemeanors following the passage of Senate Bill 391 into law in 2015.

Welcomed by many with misdemeanor records, and criminal defense attorneys in the state, this revision opened the door to expungement for what was previously a remarkably limited group of offenders:

●       Those 70 years of age or older, with no other convictions for at least five years

●       Those who were deceased for at least three years

In 2020, the Pennsylvania state legislature also passed what has been called the Clean Slate law, House Bill 440. Clean Slate makes it easier for some to clear their records and get jobs, including those who received a full acquittal in a court of competent jurisdiction and those who received pardons from the governor to have their records automatically expunged. Previously, the governor’s pardon was treated as a separate process from expungement.

Convictions that Can Be Expunged in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania’s new expungement laws, the process of having records expunged is now available to those convicted of:

  • Substance-related charges
  • Driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance (DUI)
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Larceny
  • Identity theft
  • Reckless endangerment
  • Assault and battery charges that were graded as mutual combat misdemeanors, when someone got into a fight with another person, are also eligible. This is the only violent offense that is eligible.

Misdemeanors that are not eligible include the following:

●       Firearm and weapons offenses

●       Sexual violations

●       Cruelty to animals

●       Intimidation or retaliation against witnesses

●       Any offense that carries an incarceration sentence of two or more years

●       If the offender has multiple prior convictions with at least a one-year sentence

What Is Required to Get the Record Expunged?

  • For a second-degree misdemeanor committed under age 25: No other convictions in the past 10 years.
  • For a third-degree misdemeanor: No other convictions in the past seven years.
  • For a summary offense such as loitering or underage drinking: No other convictions for more than five years.
  • For those in Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) programs, including cases such as driving under the influence: The expungement process may be started automatically by completing the program. ARD is a state program for first-time offenders who have no prior criminal convictions with the purpose of quick disposition of charges, eliminating the need for trials and other court proceedings. It is designed to recognize offenders who are deemed to be good candidates for rehabilitation and remove their cases from the criminal justice system.

Qualifying Is Not a Guarantee of Expungement

Although the amended state laws on expungement benefit many more people, it is not a guarantee that a person who qualifies will have their records expunged.

The qualifications can be met, but prosecutors are allowed to provide arguments to the court if they disagree that expungement should be granted. The decision is up to a judge.

The judge will review the facts of the case and will grant expungement to those who have been truly rehabilitated and are not considered a threat or danger to society.

West Chester Criminal Defense Lawyers at the Law Offices of Heather J. Mattes Help Clients Expunge Their Criminal Records

If you are seeking an expungement of your criminal record, reach out to the experienced West Chester criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Heather J. Mattes to help with the process. Criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Heather J. Mattes can help clients build the case for expungement, and her experience allows her to anticipate the arguments from the prosecution side.  Call us today at 610-431-7900 or fill out our online form for a free consultation. With our offices located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve all communities of Chester County, Bucks County, Delaware County, Lehigh County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County.

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