How can an expungement, sealing or pardon of record help me?
Arrests and convictions are public record. Even if charges are withdrawn or dismissed, or if you are found not guilty, arrests and charges remain on your record until and unless they are cleared from your criminal record. Additionally, non-traffic citations and low-level misdemeanors may be expunged in certain cases.
Expunging criminal arrests or convictions can help you in several ways:
- Public assistance
- Military enlistment
- Parental rights
Am I eligible to expunge or seal my criminal record?
If you are not convicted of a criminal charge, you can petition to expunge that charge by full or partial expungement. Full expungement can occur where you have been cleared of all charges in a criminal case, and partial expungement can occur where you have been cleared of at least one, but not all, charges in a criminal case. This applies not only to charges that were withdrawn or dismissed, or resulted in a not guilty verdict, but also charges that did not result in conviction due to a pre-trial program such as Probation Without Verdict or ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition), unless for a sexual offense.
An expungement can be granted for any conviction in these very limited circumstances:
- You are 70 and have been free from probation or incarceration for at least 10 years.
- A relative has been deceased for at least three years.
Two types of low-level convictions can be sealed:
- Summary non-traffic citations, if you have been free from arrest for 5 years.
- Low-level Misdemeanors, specifically any misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 2 years or less, including Misdemeanor 2s and 3s and drug possession offenses, if you have been free from arrest for 10 years, and if:
- You have a total of less than four of these low-level misdemeanor convictions.
- You have not been convicted of Misdemeanor 2 Simple Assault, Intimidation of a Witness, Impersonating a Public Official or certain sexual offenses.
- You have no Misdemeanor 1 or Felony convictions.
What is the difference between “sealing” and “expunging” a record?
Expungement completely clears the arrest or conviction from a record so that the record no longer exists, with the limited exception that law enforcement and courts have sole access to cases dismissed after completion of a pre-trial program of ARD or Probation Without Verdict, since that information is needed for second or subsequent offenses – for example, for a second offense DUI.
Sealing protects the record from the knowledge and view of the public and any agency, with the exception of the courts, law enforcement, Children and Youth Services and professional or trade licensing agencies. Therefore, potential employers and landlords, for example, would not have access to such records.
If I cannot expunge or seal my record, can I get a pardon?
Anyone with a criminal conviction but ineligible to petition for expungement or sealing of a record can apply for a pardon. The application is made to the Board of Pardons; see www.bop.pa.gov. The application is extensive and the process currently takes three years after submission, including investigation by the Board of Probation and Parole and hearing before the Board of Pardons.
The Board considers the following in determining whether to grant a pardon:
- How much time has passed since the crime was committed?
- Have you completed and complied with all sentence requirements?
- Have you made positive changes to your life since the crime?
- What is the specific need for a pardon? (For example, turned down jobs, could not get housing.)
- What is the impact of the crime upon the victim(s)?
How can legal aid help?
Legal aid can provide specific advice in your case about whether you are eligible to petition for expungement, sealing or a pardon of your record. Where resources allow, legal aid will petition for expungement or for sealing of your record and will petition to waive your court costs.
What is my county court process?
Fayette County: The PA State Police criminal background must be attached to the petition, and it is filed with the Clerk of Courts, which submits to the District Attorney’s Office for its consent or objection, and then it is presented to the assigned Judge.
For local rules, go to www.co.fayette.pa.us.
Greene County: The PA State Police criminal background must be attached to the petition, and it is submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for its consent or objection, then presented to the assigned Judge.
For local rules, go to www.co.greene.pa.us.
Somerset County: The PA State Police criminal background must be attached to the petition, and it is submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for its consent or objection, then presented to the assigned Judge.
For local rules, go to www.co.somerset.pa.us.
Washington County: Expungement applications must go to the District Attorney’s Office for consent or objection. If the DA’s Office objects, a hearing can be requested. If probation was involved due to ARD or Probation Without Verdict, the application must first go to the Clerk of Courts to confirm all costs have been paid, then to Adult Probation to confirm your compliance with its supervision. The Unified Judicial System docket of the case must be attached to the petition.
For local rules, go to www.washingtoncourts.us.
The expungement law is found at 18 Pa.C.S. Chapter 91. Your dockets can be viewed at ujsportal.pacourts.us, and criminal backgrounds can be obtained at http://www.psp.pa.gov.
For more online information, go to www.palawhelp.org.