Expungement of Criminal Charges in Pennsylvania
Having a criminal record can affect your future - employment, renting an apartment and voting, to name a few. Expungement is a very important process as it allows for the destruction of the criminal record including your rap sheet, fingerprints, mug shot, and any paperwork associated with the case.
Expunging a Criminal RecordThe term "Expungement" refers to a judge ordering that a criminal record should be destroyed. Expungement is allowed in limited situations in Pennsylvania. If a case or charges were dropped, or if you are found not guilty of a crime, then a county judge can order expungement. Likewise, if you completed a first time offender program such as ARD or Section 17, expungement of your record can be granted. Lastly, a criminal conviction may be expunged when the individual turns 70 years of age.
Expungement CANNOT be granted by law if you were convicted of a crime (plead guilty, plead no contest or were found guilty by a judge or jury). If you were convicted, then a governor's pardon would be the proper channel to have any evidence of your case destroyed.
A Motion for expungement must be filed with the clerk of courts and typically a court date is scheduled approximately 60-90 days later. If the District Attorney does not object to the expungement, then the judge signs the Order expunging the case. The Clerk then sends the order to all of the agencies who have your name on record, local police, state police and courts and these agencies typically return an affidavit of compliance indicating that they have complied with the court order and expunged your records. Expungement typically takes anywhere from 4-12 months to have the charges removed from your record.
Additionally, if some charges were dropped and you were found guilty of other charges, the charges that were dropped may be expunged immediately. The charges in which you were found guilty would remain but you would at least be able to get some of the charges off of your rap sheet. This is important in plea bargained cases, especially when the most serious charges were dropped in exchange for a plea to lesser offenses.
If your were convicted of a summary offense (Disorderly Conduct, Harassment, 1st offense retail theft), the law states your must wait 5 years to have the summary case expunged from your record. Hiring an experienced local lawyer familiar with the local court system would be extremely beneficial, especially if a hearing is necessary.
Governor's Pardon (Clemency)If your case is not eligible for expungement, then you can file for a Governor's Pardon, also known as Clemency. Your application will be reviewed by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, who after an investigation, will determine if a public hearing will be scheduled. If a hearing is scheduled, you will have to travel to Harrisburg, where a 15 minute hearing is held in which you state your case for clemency. The board then would vote and if granted, the board would forward a recommendation to the Governor, who would then have to sign the order granting your clemency. Thereafter, all agencies such as the police and the courts would be required to destroy all information about your arrest and conviction.
Limited Access Expungement - Hiding Your Record From Public ViewRecently, the legislature enacted a law which allows people to "hide" minor misdemeanor convictions from public view. While the case typically is not "expunged" in that the records are not destroyed, only law enforcement would have access to the records which cannot be viewed by the general public. Limited Access Expungement only applies to 2nd and 3rd degree misdemeanors, and the individual must have remained arrest free for 10 years after the case is closed. Again, having an experienced local attorney on your side would be highly beneficial and would likely increase your chances of a satisfactory resolution. As expungement is not a quick process and could take up to a year to have a case completely removed from your record, it is best to file the motion as soon as possible. I have had former clients call me and tell me that a new employer would be running their rap sheet in a week and I had to tell them that it takes months, and not days or weeks, to get charges off of their record.