Pennsylvania Expungement Process
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.
In 2016, the governor signed a bill and thereby created a law that allows for some misdemeanor convictions to be hidden from public view. The law, called an Order for Limited Access, is similar to what many states call a “sealing” of the record. If a criminal record were subject to an Order for Limited Access, it means that the record should not appear on future background searches.While this law prevents public access to these records, certain official entities will still have access, including law enforcement and state licensing boards.
Not all misdemeanor convictions are eligible to receive an Order for Limited Access. All first degree misdemeanors are excluded from consideration. The law also contains a list of second and third degree misdemeanors that are excluded. A person must also be free of arrest and prosecution for 10 years following completion of the sentence in order to be eligible. For more information about the eligibility requirements for an Order for Limited Access, click here.
Petition and hearing
Obtaining an Order for Limited Access or expunging a record is not normally an automatic process, meaning the government dose not do it for a person. 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.