How does expungement work in Pennsylvania?
Criminal charges in Pennsylvania can create a permanent, publicly accessible record, even without an actual conviction. Just one mistake can generate repercussions you may continue to feel for the rest of your life, affecting your career prospects and social relationships.
Fortunately, in some cases, Pennsylvania law provides the possibility of expungement. Getting a record expunged makes it unavailable for public view; only law enforcement personnel will be able to access it.
If you were charged but not convicted, you may be able to get your arrest record expunged. This is true whether you were tried and found not guilty or the prosecutors dismissed or withdrew the charges. People who enter treatment court programs such as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition gain eligibility once they succeed in completing the program.
If you have not been arrested for at least five years since your conviction for a summary offense, expungement is also a possibility. Typical summary offenses may include minor first-time retail theft or disorderly conduct.
For other types of convictions, expungement can be achieved based on a pardon from the governor if three years have passed since the convicted person’s death or if the convicted person is over 70 years old and has not been arrested for at least 10 years.
A recent change in law that went into effect in 2016 expands this recourse to persons convicted of misdemeanors in the second or third degree. Eligibility criteria include completion of all penalties for previous offenses and a lack of arrests or criminal charges for a minimum of 10 years. While this law prevents public access to these records, certain official entities will still have access, including law enforcement and state licensing boards.
The new expungement law also contains several criteria that disqualify otherwise eligible individuals. Among those are certain types of assaults and sex crimes, any offenses that invoke Megan’s Law, prior offenses with jail terms over two years and four or more offenses with a penalty of at least one year in jail.
Petition and hearing
Expungement is never an automatic process. You have to file a petition for every arrest or charge you want to expunge. The district attorney may agree to have your petition granted or ask for a hearing to challenge it. Hearings can often go either way, as judges weigh factors such as the effect of the record on your life, evidence for and against your rehabilitation and how much time has passed since the case.
An experienced defense attorney can advise you as to your potential eligibility for expungement and draft a strong petition. Especially in the event of a hearing, you need a knowledgeable lawyer who can develop an effective approach.