If you have a criminal record and are actively seeking employment, professional licensing, or housing, you may find it difficult to proceed. Despite regulations stating some employers may not consider certain arrest records as a factor against employment, other employers do not fall into those guidelines. Is there a way to seal your records so others cannot use the information against you?
What Is Record Sealing?
The state of Pennsylvania allows the sealing of certain criminal records so that those attempting to access the information cannot gain access. The process applies only to certain types of arrest records, and does not eliminate them. However, sealed records are inaccessible to the general public.
The state does not destroy records approved for sealing. Rather, a court orders the records sealed under an order for limited access. Limited access depends on the state you are in, but Pennsylvania restricts limited access to criminal justice agencies, child protective services, and professional licensing boards. All others, including employers and landlords, are not able to access the contents of the record.
If you are interested in learning more about record sealing, contact our criminal defense lawyer, we can answer your questions and help you move forward.
Are All Records Eligible for Sealing?
Arrest records eligible for sealing include ungraded/category offenses with a maximum of no more than two years in prison. Also eligible are second- or third-degree misdemeanors with a maximum of no more than two years in prison. Common offenses eligible include possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia, first-offense DUI, and certain theft or trespassing violations. However, eligibility does not extend to all records.
Offenses ineligible for sealing include offenses with maximum penalties of more than two years in prison, and offenses higher than a second-degree misdemeanor. In addition, convictions for obstruction of a child abuse case, impersonating a public official, or intimidating a witness or victim cannot become eligible for sealing. If your conviction required you to register as a sex offender, your record is also not eligible for sealing.
In addition, the law excludes repeat offenders from eligibility. If you have a felony conviction on your record, you cannot file for record sealing. Similarly, if you have two or more first-degree misdemeanors or four or more second- and third-degree misdemeanors, you cannot file. Speak with an attorney to determine if your eligibility will change at a later date.
How Do I Apply for Record Sealing?
In 2018, Governor Wolf signed a bill that automatically allows for the automatic sealing of records relating to lower-level, nonviolent crimes. This new Clean Slate legislation automatically seals arrests that did not lead to convictions after 60 days, and summary convictions after ten years. The legislation automatically seals eligible misdemeanor convictions if no other criminal activity has taken place after ten years. However, this process does not go into effect until at least June of 2019.
As of January, 2019, you can file for limited access sealing for your eligible cases in the local court that heard your case. The process for filing the petition can differ, so it is usually best to seek the advice of an attorney. You will need to pay any outstanding court fees related to the original conviction, and may need to pay a fee for the record sealing. However, courts sometimes waive fees for those on a legal aid program or with low-income markers.
What if an Employer Asks About My Criminal Record?
Clean Slate legislation included specific language to highlight the fact that you can act as though the sealed incident never occurred. If a potential employer or landlord asks you for criminal background information, you may respond as though the offense never existed. However, if a criminal justice organization is doing the asking, or if federal law requires disclosure, you must provide the information.