Expungement in Pennsylvania explained
Pennsylvania has been active in recent years in expanding its judicial relief mechanisms, though it still has a long way to go to catch up to states like Kentucky, Missouri, and New Jersey, which have in the past 12 months extended their expungement laws to some felonies and/or reduced waiting periods. No one has been more active and effective in the effort to increase the availability of “clean slate” judicial remedies than Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director for Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Sharon has written a comprehensive guide to existing authorities on expungement and sealing in her state, which also discusses pending bills that would extend these laws. The abstract follows:
Over the last few decades, the collateral consequences for the estimated 3.8 million Pennsylvanians with criminal records have increased exponentially because of legislative action and ubiquitous background screening. Many people with criminal records struggle with these barriers years after having last encountered the criminal justice system. Their most effective remedy is to have their record cleared.
Until recently, Pennsylvania’s only method of record clearing was expungement, which is limited primarily to cases with non-conviction dispositions. The only broad category of convictions that can be expunged prior to November 14, 2016, are summary offenses, after five years.
Pennsylvania’s record-clearing scheme changed in February 2016, with the passage of Act 5 of 2016. Act 5 introduces orders for limited access (often known informally as “sealing”). These new orders allow cases to remain accessible to criminal justice agencies and occupational licensing boards, but to no one else. Act 5 permits some second degree, third degree and ungraded misdemeanor convictions to be sealed after 10 years free of arrest or prosecution, although exceptions written into the law will disqualify many cases.
By allowing some misdemeanors to be sealed, Act 5 moves Pennsylvania into the mainstream of the record-clearing schemes of the 50 states. However, around half of the states allow more extensive expungement or sealing, with eleven states allowing many felonies to be cleared. Pennsylvania could take a significant step forward by adopting “Clean Slate” legislation now pending in the General Assembly, 5 which would provide automatic sealing of misdemeanors, summary offenses and non-convictions after certain waiting periods.
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