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, called an “order for limited access.” 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.

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 (2018).)

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 (2018).)

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 (2018).)

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 (2018).)

Criminal Records That Qualify for an Order for Limited Access in Pennsylvania

You may petition for a court order for limited access if you were convicted of a second degree misdemeanor, a third degree misdemeanor, or an ungraded offense that carries a maximum sentence of no more than two years’ imprisonment. You must wait ten years after you complete your sentence to apply, and you may not have been arrested or prosecuted for any other crime during that time. Certain criminal records, however, are not eligible for an order for limited access, including:

  • convictions for four or more offenses punishable by a year or more in prison
  • simple assault (except for third-degree misdemeanor assault)
  • sexual intercourse with an animal
  • impersonation of a public servant
  • intimidation of a witness or victim
  • retaliation against a witness, victim, or party
  • intimidation, retaliation, or obstruction in a child abuse case, and
  • any offense requiring you to register as a sex offender.

(18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122.1 (2018).)

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.

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.

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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