A criminal record can have long-lasting consequences whether you were convicted or only charged. An expungement erases certain parts of your criminal history so employers and others no longer see it in background checks. Keep reading to learn more about what an expungement does, if you qualify and how to get your criminal record expunged in PA.

What Does an Expungement Do?

An expungement erases certain arrests, charges, and/or convictions from your public criminal record. An expungement is for specific charges. If you have two separate cases and only request or receive an expungement for one, only one case gets removed.

For any expunged charges, you can honestly state that you have never been charged with or convicted of that crime. If you have no other charges, you can honestly say you have never been arrested or convicted.

Certain government agencies do still have access to expunged charges. For example, if you apply for a job in law enforcement or one that requires a security clearance, the charge can still come up.

When Can You Get an Expungement?

Title 18, Section 9122 of the Pennsylvania Code provides for specific circumstances under which you can get an expungement.

  • You have a case that has remained open for longer than 18 months without a disposition (guilty or not guilty), and the court verifies that the case is no longer pending.
  • A court orders that nonconviction data, such as an arrest where the charges were dropped, be expunged.
  • After you turn 21, a minor in possession charge you received between age 18 and 21 if you have completed all terms of your sentence.
  • If you were found not guilty of all the charges against you related to a single incident. If you were found guilty of some charges and not guilty of others, this does not apply. However, each case is separate, so if you are fully acquitted in one case and found guilty in another case, the case you were fully acquitted in can be expunged.
  • If you are over 70 years old and have been free of arrest or conviction for ten years from completion of your sentence.
  • If a family member has been deceased for at least three years.
  • A summary offense can be expunged if you have been free of arrest or conviction for at least five years following that conviction.

How Can You Get an Expungement?

Expungements are not automatic. You have to file a petition with the county court or courts where you were convicted.

n order to identify the court where you were convicted and the full details of each case to include in the petition, you will usually need to request your full criminal record.

  • Complete Pennsylvania State Police form SP 4-170.
  • Mail the form along with the required fee, a copy of your photo identification, and a letter authorizing your lawyer to represent you (if applicable).
  • You will receive your full record in the mail within a few weeks.

Once you receive your record, you’re ready to file your petition. Each court has its own form and a slightly different process. You will generally need to provide an explanation of why you’re seeking expungement and why it’s in the state’s interest to grant it. The District Attorney will be notified and given time to object. If they object, your defense attorney can respond, and the court will make the final decision.

Are Expungements Automatic?

Expungements are not automatic. In some cases, you may be able to agree to an expungement as part of a pre-trial diversion program. In that situation, the expungement paperwork is completed when the case is resolved.

In most cases, you need to go through the petition process. Charges do not get automatically expunged after a certain amount of time has passed, even for summary offenses.

Additionally, an expungement is not a statutory legal right. Meeting the stated requirements for an expungement does not mean the judge has to grant it. The judge can consider your subsequent good or bad conduct as well as any other relevant information. Your criminal defense attorney may be able to help persuade the judge to rule in your favor at your expungement hearing.

How Is an Expungement Different From an ARD or Section 17?

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition is a special way to resolve DUI and similar cases without a conviction. Section 17 is a pre-trial diversion program for minor drug offenses such as possession of marijuana or paraphernalia. Both programs can result in you not having a conviction on your record for the charged offense.

Successfully completing one of these charges makes you eligible for an expungement under the category of having not been convicted for the charged offense. The procedural difference for these programs is that the expungement will be agreed to and filed when your case is resolved. You don’t have to go back and request the expungement at a later date.

How Is an Expungement Different From Having a Case Sealed?

An expungement goes farther than sealing a case. An expungement requires that the records are removed from most government databases. Expunged records can only be accessed in extremely limited circumstances.

Sealed cases are only blocked from public view. Government agencies still have full access to them. For example, police and prosecutors can still consider a sealed case when deciding how to charge you or to request sentencing in a future case. Expunged cases generally wouldn’t be able to be considered.

What Is Clean Slate?

Clean Slate allows certain criminal history to be automatically sealed if a person has completed all sentencing requirements and not been convicted of a new felony for at least ten years after the original offense. Clean Slate only seals records. It does not expunge them.

Eligible offenses include second and third-degree misdemeanor convictions, summary convictions, and charges that didn’t result in a conviction. Crimes involving danger to persons, against families, or involving firearms are not eligible regardless of the degree of the offense. Having multiple or serious convictions can also make you ineligible for Clean Slate.

How Is an Expungement Different From a Pardon?

A governor’s pardon removes the future legal consequences of a conviction. It does not overturn the conviction or hide records of the conviction. Instead, it can end any remaining sentence and restore legal rights such as the right to vote or own a firearm. Employers and others can still see records of a pardoned conviction and potentially consider that conviction against you.

An expungement is generally only available after you have completed your sentence. You can’t request a pardon to get out of prison or end your probation. The main purpose of filing for an expungement is to open up future employment, education, housing, or other opportunities.

Can You Get an Expungement for a Past Conviction That Is No Longer a Crime?

Changing laws may mean that you were previously convicted of an offense that is no longer a crime. For example, you may have been convicted of marijuana use that is allowed by current medical marijuana rules.

As a general rule, a change in law does not mean you can automatically get an expungement because you still broke the law as of the date of your offense. However, courts are often more likely to grant expungements and other relief for conduct that society has decided should no longer be treated as a criminal offense.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

To learn more about whether you’re eligible for an expungement and how to get one, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Call our office now to schedule a consultation.