Expungement of a Summary Offense Conviction
This guide provides information on the process to obtain expungement of a summary offense in Pennsylvania. Keep in mind that the exact process will vary from county to county. This is not an exhaustive list - there are other offenses that are eligible for expungement in Pennsylvania.
Is my case eligible?Section 9122 of the Pennsylvania crimes code (18 Pa.C.S. 9122) provides the criteria for eligibility for expungement. Subsection (b)(3) provides the criteria for summary offenses. Summary offenses are the lowest level criminal offense in Pennsylvania. Speeding citations are summary offenses as are convictions for things like disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. That section provides for expungement where, "[a]n individual who is the subject of the information petitions the court for the expungement of a summary offense and has been free of arrest or prosecution for five years following the conviction for that offense.”
One issue that frequently arises is when does that five-year waiting period apply. For instance, if you have several summary convictions within a five-year period, does that mean each of those is not eligible given there was not a separate five-year waiting period? Pennsylvania courts have determined that a five-year period following the last conviction satisfies the five-year waiting period. That means if you have several convictions in a short period of time, as long as you wait five (5) years after the last offense, all offenses become eligible for expungement.
Keep in mind there are other offenses eligible for expungement that are not covered by this guide. In addition, these rules do not apply to the summary offense of underage drinking found at 18 Pa.C.S. 6308.
Obtain a background check report from the Pennsylvania State Police.The rules governing expungement require that you obtain a current criminal history report (background check) from the Pennsylvania State Police and attach it to your expungement petition. There are two types of background checks used for expungement. One is called an “access and review” check with is basically an exhaustive search of all criminal history information. It can take up to six (6) months to obtain this type of report. The state police also provide instant checks. Most counties will allow the use of the instant check variety, but you should contact the clerk of courts office in the county in which you are filing to confirm which type of background check they require. You can access the state police background check portal here: https://epatch.state.pa.us/Home.jsp
Draft your petition and proposed order.The next step is to draft your petition. The Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) provides forms for ease of drafting the expungement petition. You can find those forms on the AOPC website. For summary offenses, you need the petition pursuant to rule 490. The form is pretty self-explanatory, and you can find almost all of the information you need on the docket sheet for your particular case, with exception of the address of the arresting police agency. The affiant is the arresting or citing officer. The disposition you list on the form should match the disposition on the docket sheet. In the reason for expungement block, for this type of expungement, I typically write, “It has been more than five (5) years since Petitioner was convicted of the above-listed offense(s) and he has remained free of arrest or prosecution for a cumulative five (5) year period. The offense(s) are eligible expungement pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. 9122(b)(3).
The next step is optional and will depend on your county. A proposed order is an order that you draft that you want the judge to sign – you’re making the judge’s job easy. You’re saying, “Your Honor, if you grant my petition, here is an order that you can sign and be done with my case.” The order lists the same information as the petition with the addition of all of the agencies you want the order served upon. This is an important step. These are the agencies you want to receive the expungement order and to destroy your records. Essential agencies include the police department that issued the citation, the Pennsylvania State Police, the district court that heard your case and the AOPC. If you do not provide a proposed order, the court will generally provide one.
How many petitions do I need to file?You need to file a petition for each separate case, or for each separate arrest. For instance, if on one occasion, you receive several citations from the same officer, you can list all of those on the same petition. If, however, you receive multiple citations from different stops or from different officers, even if on the same day, you will need separate petitions for each separate occurrence.
Assemble your expungement packet and file.After you have drafted your petition, proposed order and obtained your background check, it is time to put your packet together and make copies. The order of documents should be the proposed order on top, followed by your petition, followed by your background check.
Unfortunately, the next steps again will depend on your county. Each county will require different numbers of copies and will have different filing fees. The easiest way to determine this is to contact the clerk of courts office for that information. Most offices provide some self-help information for expungement filers and many also have resources on their county websites.
Once your petition is filed, you must make sure that a copy of the petition is provided to the district attorney’s office.
You may need to attend a hearing.After the DA’s office reviews your petition, a member of the DA’s office will indicate whether that office consents or objects to your expungement. If the DA’s office consents, your petition will typically be assigned to a judge and granted without the need to appear in court. The order that you provided or that the court will provide is signed and issued to the agencies listed on your order.
If the DA’s office objects, you will need to attend a hearing and make your case. There can be several reasons for the DA’s office to object, such as failure to follow the rules for expungement, listing an offense that is ineligible for expungement, or even just a mistake made by the DA’s office.
Receive your order in the mail.If your expungement is granted, you will receive a certified copy of the order in the mail. HOLD ON TO THIS! It is very important to hold onto this order as the court will destroy your records and you will no longer have proof that the case was expunged in the event something comes up in the future.
What to do if you need help.This process can be confusing and I'm sure I did not answer all of your questions in this guide. It's ok to have questions! Most us on this site, myself included, will provide some free assistance or will take care of the entire process from start to finish for a fee. Please feel free to reach out with questions about the process or about fees to handle the process for you.