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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in Pennsylvania

Sealing and expunging of criminal records in the State of Pennsylvania prevent the general public from having access to such records. The state's Clean Slate Act creates a system that allows the automatic sealing of criminal records for offenders that committed second or third-degree misdemeanors with a maximum conviction of two years in jail. Such persons must also be free of convictions for ten years after the completion of their punishment. Some convictions are ineligible for this privilege, as stated by the judicial arm of the state.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

In Pennsylvania, the expungement of criminal records means that such records are made unavailable to the general public and will be wiped off the databases of government agencies. Sealing of records is known as an Order for Limited Access in the state of Pennsylvania and while it also prevents the records from the public's access, they may still exist on the government database systems. While expunged records are not available to anyone, sealed records may be accessed by the state's law enforcement agency, prosecutors, and judges. Criminal records may be expunged under the state's expungement statute.

Records that are considered publicmay be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How to Seal a Criminal Record in Pennsylvania

Interested persons may seal criminal records through the provisions made in Pennsylvania's Act 5 Limited Access law. This act allows eligible persons to petition the court to issue an order for limited access to their criminal records. Persons convicted for ungraded misdemeanors, such as a first DUI offense or possession of a small amount of marijuana, are eligible to request for records sealing. Individuals are ineligible if convicted of assault crimes, sexual crimes, or have a record of four or more misdemeanors that are categorized as a second-degree misdemeanor or higher. Interested persons may fill the Petition for Order for Limited Access form and submit it to the court of common pleas in the county the crime occurred. The state's clean slate act also provides a programmed means of clearing records for eligible persons. While the limited access law seals records on the request of interested individuals, the clean state act is an automated action by the government that requires no payment. However, more types of criminal records may be sealed under the limited access law. For instance, records of crimes involving firearms may be sealed under the limited access law but such criminal records are ineligible for sealing under the clean slate act.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's expungement law facilitates the permanent erasure of an offender's criminal records. Criminal records and history that may be expunged include:

  • Cases in which there are no dispositions received or recorded after 18 months from the time of arrest and the court certifies that none is available or in pending.
  • Non-conviction data.
  • Crime history of persons who are 21 years or older and were convicted of crimes that involved underage alcohol purchase or consumption, when they were below 18 years of age. 

Also, expungement may be granted to persons up to 70 years of age and without a conviction for the last ten years, persons declared dead for up to three years, and individuals who committed summary offenses and have been free of prosecution for a subsequent period of five years.

How to Expunge Criminal Records in Pennsylvania

Criminal records may be expunged by filing a petition to the court where the offense occurred. However, applicants are required to attach a copy of the criminal records gotten from the state's law enforcement agency.

To obtain these records, interested persons may fill out a form and mail it to the address specified in the form. The form should be enclosed with a copy of a government-issued identity document, a legal affidavit if necessary, and a fee of $20 in certified check or money order. Criminal records requested will be received via mail.

Upon the acquisition of the records, interested persons may proceed to submit a petition form to the location of the court of common pleas where the conviction happened. Filing fees may differ in different county areas. The court notifies the district attorney within 10 days of petition filing. The district attorney has 30 days to object in which a court hearing follows and a judge gives a verdict. If there are no objections from the district attorney, the petition to seal records will be granted and all criminal agencies will be notified.

Do Sealed Records Show up In Pennsylvania Background Checks?

No, sealed records do not show up in general background checks in the state of Pennsylvania. The clean slate and order for limited access acts both prevent the access of sealed records to the general public. However, an exception to this includes the FBI background check. This is because the FBI is a federal agency that maintains its records and therefore, cannot be affected by the state's law on sealed records. Some employers may also gain access to sealed records if it is a requirement for recruiting under federal laws. Employers also enjoy immunity from liability under the clean slate act. If an employee engages in misconduct that is similar to their sealed records, the employer is not liable.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in Pennsylvania?

Although sealed records are removed from the public's access, some exceptions may apply. Parties that may access sealed records include:

  • State licensing agencies.
  • Law enforcement agencies.
  • The Supreme Court.
  • Employers with court orders against a civil liability claim.
  • Employers are mandated to consider criminal records for employment under federal laws.

These parties are granted access by the exemptions to the Order to Limited Access act.

How to Obtain Sealed Records in Pennsylvania

Sealed records in the state of Pennsylvania may be obtained through getting a court order. Parties eligible to access sealed records include law enforcement agencies, state licensing agencies, and employers that are required to run a background check during recruitment. Interested individuals may visit the court location where the case occurred and file a petition with the clerk of the court in writing or by filing a form.

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