Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Pennsylvania

The basics of Pennsylvania's criminal record expungement and sealing laws.

By , Master of Science in Library and Information Science, Long Island University
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated April 14, 2023

In Pennsylvania, your criminal record may be expunged or sealed under the circumstances described below. 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.

Understanding What Expungement and Sealing Mean in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has four methods of clearing a criminal history: expungement, petition-based sealing, automatic sealing, and pardons. Here's what they do.

Expunging Records in PA

Expungement basically wipes a record clean (records are physically destroyed). For this reason, the law greatly limits who and what records can benefit from expungement.

Only the courts and law enforcement will be able to see any evidence of an expunged record. Even then, these agencies can only use the record to identify persons in a criminal investigation or make determinations regarding future charges, diversion eligibility, and sentencing enhancements.

Sealing Criminal Records in PA

Sealed records are not destroyed; rather, they are protected by what's called an "Order for Limited Access." The general public cannot view sealed records. However, these records can be accessed by criminal justice agencies, professional licensing boards, immigration, and child protective services.

Whether sealing occurs automatically or upon filing a court petition depends on the type of record and the person's criminal history.

Pardons in PA

Pardons are available only through application to the Board of Pardons. The ultimate pardon decision rests with the governor. If granted, the pardoned record will be expunged. (For more information about pardons, check out the Board of Pardons' website.)

Eligibility for Expungement in Pennsylvania

Records that qualify for expungement in Pennsylvania include the following:

  • Non-conviction records. These records include charges that did not result in a conviction, such as when charges are dismissed, withdrawn, or nolle prossed. Also, arrest records qualify if there's been no disposition in the case after 18 months and no criminal proceedings are pending.
  • Offenses resolved through an ARD program. Cases successfully completed through an ARD (Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition) program qualify, as long as the charges were unrelated to a sex crime against a minor.
  • Underage drinking offenses. Underage drinking offenses involving a defendant age 18 or older qualify after the person completes all the sentencing terms and is at least 21.
  • Acquittals. A finding of not guilty by a judge or jury is an acquittal. Acquittals qualify for expungement but only if the defendant was acquitted on all charges arising from the same alleged criminal conduct.

The following criminal records may also qualify for expungement.

  • Summary offenses (after 5 years). Summary offenses qualify for expungement only if 5 years have passed following conviction, during which time the defendant remained arrest-free.
  • Persons age 70 or older. Individuals age 70 or older may apply for expungement of records when they've been arrest-free for 10 years following release from incarceration or supervision. This option has no restrictions on the offense grade—it can be a summary offense, misdemeanor, or felony.
  • Records of a deceased person. Records of a person who's been deceased for three years may be expunged.

(18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2022); Pa. R. Crim. P. Rule 320 (2022).)

Eligibility for Petition-Based Sealing (Order for Limited Access) in Pennsylvania

In certain cases, a person may petition the court to seal conviction records relating to qualifying first-, second-, or third-degree misdemeanors, or an ungraded offense that carries a maximum sentence of no more than five years' imprisonment. The law requires that the person not have any convictions (punishable by a year or more in prison) for a 10-year period, plus all restitution orders must be paid off.

Certain persons and offenses are not eligible for petition-based sealing (an "order for limited access"), as noted below.

Ineligible criminal history. The following convictions (no matter when they occurred) make a person ineligible for an order for limited access: past convictions for murder, a first-degree felony, or any felony punishable by imprisonment of 20 years or more. Having certain convictions for violent felonies, felony sex offenses, failure to register, or weapon offenses also disqualifies a person, as will multiple first- and second-degree misdemeanor or other felony convictions. (These disqualifying convictions have a 15- or 20-year lookback periods.)

Ineligible offenses. 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 offense (such as truancy or statutory rape).

(18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122.1 (2022).)

Eligibility for Automatic Sealing (Clean Slate) in Pennsylvania

Certain conviction records are automatically sealed on a monthly basis by the courts. A person who qualifies for automatic sealing doesn't have to file a petition or do anything to get the records sealed.

The following conviction records may be eligible for automatic sealing as part of the Clean Slate process:

  • qualifying second- and third-degree misdemeanors and ungraded offenses that carry a maximum sentence of not more than two years in prison
  • summary offenses that are at least 10 years old
  • non-conviction records, and
  • pardoned offenses.

For misdemeanor and summary offenses, the person must have satisfied all terms of any court-ordered sentence, including any restitution orders. Eligibility for automatic sealing of misdemeanor and ungraded offenses also hinges on the person remaining conviction-free for 10 years.

Ineligible offenses. A number of misdemeanor offenses are never eligible for automatic sealing, including violent offenses, offenses against the family, firearm and weapon offenses, sex offenses, failure to register, cruelty to animals, and corruption of a minor.

Ineligible criminal history. Having a criminal record with any of the following also makes a person ineligible for automatic sealing: a felony conviction, two or more first-degree misdemeanor convictions, or four or more convictions for crimes punishable by one or more years' incarceration. The law also disqualifies anyone convicted of indecent exposure, bestiality, failure to register, and several other offenses.

(18 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 9122.2, 9122.3 (2022).)

How to Get a Criminal Record Expunged or Sealed in Pennsylvania

A person must file a petition for expungement or limited access in the court where the case was or would have been handled. The process also involves paying a filing fee with the court and serving copies of the petition with the District Attorney's office and court administration. The court forms (petitions) can be found online on the judicial branch's main website or on some local court websites. If any objections are made to the request, a hearing will be held

Where to Get Help Cleaning Up Your PA Criminal Record

Cleaning up a criminal history can be complicated. If you're not sure whether your record qualifies for expungement in Pennsylvania, several organizations offer assistance. MyCleanSlatePA.com provides a list of legal aid organizations by county. You can also find a list of agencies that provide expungement clinics and other record-clearing assistance on Pa211.org. It may also be helpful to contact a criminal defense attorney who can handle the process for you.

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