Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, some criminal records can be expunged or sealed so that the general public will not be able to access them. But not all records are eligible.

In Pennsylvania, your criminal record may be expunged—that is, erased or sealed—under the circumstances described below. In addition, some criminal records may be sealed by court order by filing a “petition for limited access.” Moreover, in 2018, Pennsylvania’s governor signed into law the Clean Slate Act, which requires the automatic sealing of certain criminal records and expands the number of criminal records that are eligible for sealing by petition.

If your record is sealed or expunged, it will no longer be visible to the general public, including potential employers. In most cases, you may say that you were never arrested or convicted of a crime. Read on to see whether your criminal record is eligible for expungement or sealing.

Criminal Records That Qualify for Expungement in Pennsylvania

If you were not convicted of a crime. If you were arrested but no disposition of your case was recorded within 18 months and there are no pending criminal proceedings against you, you may ask to have the arrest record expunged. (18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019).)

Offenses resolved through an ARD program. If you successfully completed an ARD (Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition) program for a crime other than a sex crime against a minor, your criminal record should qualify for expungement. (234 Pa. Code Rule 320; 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019).)

Offenses related to the purchase, consumption, or possession of alcohol. If you were 18 or older when you were convicted of a violation of Section 6308 and you have successfully completed all the terms of your sentence and are now at least 21 years old, you may petition to have the related record expunged. (18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019).)

Other offenses. A criminal record may qualify for expungement if:

  • you committed a summary offense (a low-level offense that's usually punished by a fine and/or no more than 90 days in jail) and at least five years have passed since the time of any criminal proceedings against you
  • you are at least 70 years old and ten or more years have passed since the time of any criminal proceedings against you, or
  • the subject of the record has been dead for at least three years.

(18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019).)

Criminal Records That Qualify for Automatic Sealing Under Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act of 2018

Under the provisions of the Clean Slate Act of 2018, some conviction records will automatically be sealed, starting June 28, 2019. Certain criminal justice agencies will then be prevented from disclosing your criminal history record information to the public. Generally, conviction records for second or third degree misdemeanors and ungraded offenses that carry a maximum sentence of no more than two years in prison are eligible for automatic sealing, as are non-conviction records. In addition, you must have satisfied all terms of any court-ordered sentence and have no misdemeanor or felony convictions within the last ten years for your record to be eligible. There are, however, a number of exceptions, including a long list of ineligible and excluded convictions. See MyCleanSlatePA.com for more information on the automatic sealing process. (18 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 9122.2, 9122.3 (2019).)

Criminal Records for Which You Can File a Petition for Limited Access in Pennsylvania

You may petition for a court order for limited access if you were convicted of a first, second, or third degree misdemeanor, or an ungraded offense that carries a maximum sentence of no more than five years’ imprisonment. An order for limited access will seal your criminal record. Certain criminal justice agencies will then be prevented from disclosing your criminal history record information to the public.

You must wait ten years after you complete your sentence to apply, and during that time you may not have been arrested or prosecuted for any other crime punishable by a year or more in prison.

Certain criminal records, however, are not eligible for an order for limited access. If you have been convicted of murder, a first degree felony, or any offense that is punishable by imprisonment of 20 years or more, your record is ineligible for sealing.

In addition, the following first degree misdemeanor conviction records cannot be sealed:

  • offenses involving danger to the person (such as assault)
  • offenses against the family (such as bigamy, incest, and child endangerment)
  • firearms or dangerous weapons offenses
  • sex offender registration violations and sex offenses, and
  • corruption of a minor offenses (such as truancy or statutory rape).

Moreover, you are disqualified from filing a petition for limited access if you have been convicted within the past 20 years of four or more offenses punishable by two or more years in prison or any of the following offenses punishable by seven or more years’ imprisonment involving:

  • an offense involving danger to the person
  • an offense against the family
  • a firearms or dangerous weapons offense, and
  • a sex offender registration and sex offense.

And, finally, you cannot file a petition for limited access if you have been convicted of any of the following within the past 15 years:

  • indecent exposure
  • sexual intercourse with an animal
  • failure to register as a sex offender
  • abuse of a corpse
  • offenses related to the introduction or possession of a weapon or an “implement of escape” in a jail, prison, or mental hospital
  • engaging in paramilitary training, or
  • two or more offenses punishable by two or more years in prison.

(18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122.1 (2019).)

How to File

You must file a petition for expungement or limited access in the court that has jurisdiction over the criminal record; this will most likely be the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the offenses were committed. See MyCleanSlatePA.com to learn more about the sealing and expungement processes and to find out if your criminal record is eligible.

Getting Legal Help

Cleaning up a criminal history can be complicated, and the law can change at any time. If you are not sure whether your record qualifies for expungement in Pennsylvania—or for advice about your personal situation—you should contact a qualified criminal law attorney. A good lawyer can guide you each step of the way.

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