Expungement and record sealing are essentially identical, since both reference a legal process to clear your criminal record of convictions or arrests. Generally, record sealing applies to juvenile records that can be sealed when you attain the age of 18, though Pennsylvania only references expungement for adult or juvenile records. Expungement or record sealing renders any criminal record of certain convictions and arrests inaccessible to the general public. Pennsylvania, though, only allows expungement if you have no record of a felony or misdemeanor conviction.
If you have a qualifiable criminal offense in Pennsylvania, you certainly should consider an expungement since a criminal record presents substantial barriers to your finding employment, suitable housing, becoming bonded, obtaining a gun permit or a professional license. It can also impede your ability to travel internationally or to enroll in certain academic institutions.
Are You Eligible?
Pennsylvania law allows expungement of summary offenses, which are minor crimes tried by a judge only and include offenses such as traffic tickets and contempt of court. Your summary offense conviction may be expunged so long as you pled guilty, had the citation dismissed, completed an Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition or had the court order your conviction expunged. You must also have satisfied all terms and conditions of your sentence and be free of arrest or conviction for five years following your disposition.
Your criminal history also qualifies for expungement once you reach the age of 70 and have not been arrested or prosecuted for 10 years following your release from incarceration.
Misdemeanors of the second degree may be expunged if they were committed while you were 25 years of age or younger and you have no record of arrest or convictions for seven to 10 years. A third-degree misdemeanor may be eligible for expungement provided you had no arrests or prosecutions during this period.
Particular misdemeanor offenses that do not qualify for expungement include second-degree assault, any crime involving use of a firearm, sex offenses, retaliation against a witness or victim, cruelty to animals or impersonating a public official.
What Do You Need?
Before you begin the expungement process, you will need to know the date of your arrest and the offenses for which you were charged. Also, you will need to obtain the name of the arresting law enforcement agency and the names of any court-ordered programs and a record of successful completion.
If you were legally represented, your attorney may be able to locate your records, though they may be in storage or even destroyed if a number of years have passed. Otherwise, you can go to the courthouse where you were charged and search for your record. Once this information is obtained, you can file a petition.
How Do You Go About Filing?
Once the relevant information is accumulated, you will need to file a petition and cover sheet in the county where your arrest or conviction was processed. You will need certain forms:
- Petition and cover sheet
- Filing fee
- Copy of completed docket sheet
- Pennsylvania State Police criminal history
- Service of petition on the district attorney
There is a separate form for summary offenses.
If you are a convicted felon or have an offense ineligible for expungement, you can apply for a pardon, which, if granted, permits you to truthfully state under oath that you have never been convicted of the crime. The Board of Pardons considers your application and makes a recommendation to the governor.
Your petition for a pardon involves a filing fee, passport photo, copy of your criminal record, and statements or letters from peers in your community in support of your request. It may take up to three years to fully investigate your case before a recommendation is made.
Retain a Pennsylvania Expungement Lawyer
Obtaining an expungement in Pennsylvania is very limited to specific summary convictions and arrests, but you may be able to petition for a pardon if you meet certain requirements. These laws are always evolving and to ensure you are following the correct procedures, consider retaining a Pennsylvania expungement attorney.