Friday, February 19, 2016

Expungement Law in PA is About to Become Less Ridiculous

In Pennsylvania, being convicted of a crime almost always taints you forever. There is no way to erase what you have done, nor is there a way to prevent a friend, family member, or employer from seeing it by simply going on the Internet.

Currently, you may ask a Pennsylvania judge to erase or "expunge" your criminal record only if you meet one of the following requirements:
  • You're 70 years old and have not been arrested for 10 years.
  • You've been dead for 3 years.
  • You are trying to delete a "summary" offense (traffic tickets, disorderly conduct, harassment, and other crimes most people care little about) and have not been arrested for 5 years. 
  • You're 21 years old and were convicted of underage drinking.
42 Pa. C.S. § 9122. You can also seek an expungement if you were not "convicted" of a crime but placed on "ARD" (a one-time slap-on-the-wrist allowed by prosecutors for many minor to moderate crimes). Id. But that's it.

Convicted of theft in 1995? Wait until you're 70 years old... or dead (and maybe your son or daughter will try to posthumously clear your name)

Convicted of marijuana possession in 1990? Same answer.

Convicted of DUI in 1985? Same answer.

For a fortunate handful, this is all about to change.

On February 16, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed 42 Pa. C.S.  § 9122.1 into law, scheduled to go into effect by this coming December. What does § 9122.1 do? It cuts through the "70 years old or dead" requirement for anyone convicted of three or fewer crimes up to a second degree misdemeanor.

The law carries some exceptions (cannot remove most simple assault convictions, anything involving Megan's Law, and a handful of other crimes considered especially serious even though the grading is relatively low). Unlike expungement, this new law will not erase a criminal record entirely (government agencies and licensing organizations will still see it). And the law carries the same requirement that you remain arrest-free for 10 years before anything can happen.

But, compared to the status quo, and the typical pace of decriminalization in Pennsylvania (zero), this is still a lot. For the first time ever, ordinary (pre-retirement) people with a serious but old misdemeanor conviction will be able to clear their record. The crimes that this law will allow you to suppress include but are not limited to:
  • All first offense and some second offense DUIs
  • All first and second offense thefts of less than $200 ($150 for retail theft (shoplifting))
  • All first, second, and third offense drug possession charges
  • All first, second, and third offense prostitution charges
The past few years have been positive for people who wish to move on with their lives and not get bogged down by an old criminal record. In 2012, Philadelphia passed an ordinance popularly dubbed "Ban the Box," prohibiting employers of ten or more from looking at a employee applicant's criminal record until after he or she was interviewed. In 2015, this law was expanded to most employers of any size, and prohibited looking at a criminal record at all after an applicant had been free of incarceration for more than 7 years. (This latest amendment will come into effect in March).

Now, the entire state of Pennsylvania is slowly improving as well.

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