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Expunging & Sealing Criminal Records

Why Clear a Criminal Record?

The United States Department of Justice estimates that over 100 million American adults, or 1 in 3, have a criminal record. In Philadelphia, approximately 400,000 people have a record. In 2011, there were 61,032 arrests and 354,951 charges. 15% of those charges ended in a conviction.

Non-conviction charges remain on a criminal record until they are expunged. Courts sell this data to background check companies who sell it to employers. The Society for Human Resource Management did a study that found 87% of employers look at criminal records when hiring. Although PA and federal law state that employees should NOT consider arrests without convictions for potential candidates, a lot of them still do.

A criminal record will show the following things:

·       Convictions: Plea agreements & Guilty verdicts

·       Charges resulting in a not-guilty verdict

·       Charges that were dismissed or withdrawn

·       Charges resulting in a diversion program like Section 17 or ARD

·       Juvenile adjudications – in some cases, this may stay on your record

Your court records are available for free online at: https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/docketsheets.aspx

Legal Standard

Under Commonwealth v. Wexler, the court weights several factors when considering the expungement of a record, including:

·       Strength of the Commonwealth’s case and the reason for wanting to retain the record

·       Criminal record history of the petitioner

·       Age and employment history of petitioner

·       Adverse consequences to the petitioner caused by the record

Eliminating Your Criminal Record

There are four ways that you can eliminate your criminal record:

Expungement: Completely remove an arrest from a criminal record. Expungements are generally only for non-conviction charges.

Redaction (Partial Expungement): Removal of non-conviction charges only from an arrest where some charges resulted in a conviction. The conviction(s) will remain on your record.

Sealing: Old, minor, misdemeanor convictions can be sealed, meaning that only law enforcement and licensing agencies will have access. The records are not available to the public, employers, or landlords.

Pardon: The process by which a felony and misdemeanor conviction may be expunged from a criminal record.


 

Expungement

Some criminal records can be fully expunged. The process takes approximately 6-10 months. Under Pa. C.S.A §9122, expungement is possible for:

·       Non-conviction charges (charge was dismissed, withdrawn, nolle processed, not guilty, etc.)

·       ARD/Section 17 if you complete the program and pay the fine

·       Summary convictions if you have a five-year arrest free period since the conviction.

·       Any conviction if you are 70+ years old and have a ten-year arrest free period since the conviction(s).


Sealing

Under Act 5, old and minor misdemeanors can be sealed or subjected to “limited access.” M2s, M3s, and ungraded misdemeanors (punishable by no more than 2 years) are eligible to be sealed.

Eligibility Checklist for Sealing

You may be eligible if all of the following apply:

1.     You were convicted (plead guilty or were found guilty) of an offense that was a misdemeanor of the 2nd or 3rd degree.

a.     Common offenses include drug possession, DUI, minor theft, disorderly conduct, and        prostitution.

2.     You have been free from arrest and conviction for a period of 10 years following the completion of your sentence.

3.     You have never been convicted of certain crimes, including any felonies, 1st degree misdemeanors, or 2nd degree simple assault (the most common kind).

4.     You have fewer than 4 misdemeanor convictions.

5.     You have paid all fines and costs owed on the case.

If you think you are eligible to have your record sealed, please contact our office as soon as possible.


Pardons

If you have a case that cannot be expunged or sealed, the only way to get it off your record is by applying for a pardon from the Governor. This is a difficult process that takes 4-5 years.

You are eligible for a pardon for:

·       Misdemeanor and felony convictions

·       ARD/Section 17 when the program is not completed

 

A good pardon candidate has:

·       5-10 years since the sentence was completed with no new convictions

·       A limited number of more minor convictions

·       Paid all court costs and fines (on the last page of the docket)