Light at the End of the Tunnel: The Path to Expungement in Pennsylvania

Living with a criminal record can feel like a sentence to life as a second class citizen. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There is a path to expungement for everyone. The key is understanding that path, and putting the pieces in place to get there as soon as possible. This post provides an overview of expungement eligibility in Pennsylvania. Hopefully, this information illuminates the path to a life free from the burden of a criminal record for you or a loved one.

First, What is an Expungement?

Expungement is the only way to have a criminal record destroyed in Pennsylvania. When information is expunged there is no trace or indication that the information ever existed. Pennsylvania also allows record sealing, which hides a record from the public instead of destroying it. However, sealing is not as effective as expungement at preventing discrimination based on criminal records. First, Federal law enforcement does not recognize record sealing. So a background check compiled using information from the Federal database will still show a sealed record. Second, a sealed record is still visible to PA law enforcement. This can create issues for law abiding individuals. For example, the sheriff’s office can use the record of a not guilty verdict to deny someone a concealed carry permit. For these reasons, expungement is always the goal.

What is Eligible for an Expungement?

Anyone who falls into one of these categories, may be eligible to have their record expunged immediately.

Cases that End with a Non-conviction

Any charge that ends in a non-conviction (i.e. not guilty verdict, dismissed, withdrawn, nolle prossed) is eligible for expungement. It’s important to note that even if you were not convicted, a record was created of your case. That record does not go away automatically. Eventually it will be sealed, but as I mentioned above a sealed record is still discoverable. It does not go away completely until an expungement petition is filed. In most situations, expungement of non-conviction information is pretty simple and straightforward.

Charges that end in a conviction (i.e. guilty verdict, guilty plea) are not immediately eligible for expungement. Those who have past convictions must fall into one of the following categories or get a pardon before becoming eligible for an expungement.

Underage Drinking Convictions

Convictions for underage drinking have special eligibility rules. Anyone convicted of underage drinking when they were 18 or older, can petition for expungement once they turn 21. As long as they successfully completed the requirements of their sentence and have not been in any trouble since, their petition must be granted.

Summary Convictions

Convictions for summary offenses also have a separate path to expungement. Summary offenses are the types of crimes that people receive citations for. They include things like shoplifting, disorderly conduct, and in some counties possession of small amounts of marijuana. Summary convictions can be expunged after 5 consecutive years without an arrest or citation.

Over 70

Under state law, if you are age 70 or older you are eligible to have your entire record expunged if you have been arrest and prosecution free for the past 10 years. This rule applies no matter what your conviction was for. However, the 10 year clock only starts ticking once you’ve completed your period of incarceration or supervision. So someone on who completes supervision at 65, would have to wait until 75.

If None of These Apply… Apply for a Pardon

Anyone with a conviction, who does not fall into one of these categories still has an option. They can apply for a pardon. A pardon represents full forgiveness for a past conviction. A Pennsylvania pardon gives you the ability to petition the court for an expungement of that conviction. Additionally, a pardon restores any rights lost due to a conviction. For example, a person with a felony conviction would regain the right to sit on a jury or receive federal student loans.

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, and the Governor decide who can receive a pardon. Generally, successful pardon applicants meet three basic criteria. First, they are willing to take responsibility for their conviction(s). Second, they have been an upstanding citizen since their conviction(s) occurred. And third, they have a legitimate reason for requesting a pardon. I’ll discuss these criteria in more detail in a future post.

The pardon process, from beginning to end, typically takes about 2 years to complete. That’s a slow process. However, many people find the wait to be worth it in comparison to the alternative — spending the rest of their life being held back by a record. Plus, for reasons I’ve laid out in a previous post, there has never been a better time to apply for a pardon.

If you would like assistance petitioning for an expungement or applying for a pardon in Pennsylvania, M. Zane {+} Associates is ready, willing and capable. I have filed thousands of expungement petitions, and helped hundreds of people escape the burden of a criminal record. I also know where you can go for free help if you qualify. If you think we might be able to help, give us a call at 267-475-7052 or schedule a free 15-minute consultation and we’ll call you at your convenience.