Erasing a Criminal Record
Glenn J. Smith
A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted the fact that many job seekers today are looking to erase their criminal past in the face of an increasingly competitive job market. Many employers today perform criminal background checks during the interview process and even question a prospective employee about whether he or she has been previously arrested, not just convicted of a crime. In many cases, an affirmative answer to that question or a hit on a background check results in the loss of an employment opportunity. Arrests and convictions can also impede eligibility for student loans, housing assistance and some professional licenses and certificates.
In Pennsylvania, requests for expungement have been historically directed to the state pardons board, which by recent accounts is facing an approximate 3 year backlog. In an attempt to expedite the process, legislation was passed last year to permit an individual previously convicted of a summary offense to petition the Court of Common Pleas for expungement of his or her criminal record where the individual has been free of arrest or prosecution for a five (5) year period following the conviction for that offense.
A specific expungement is available for individuals who are 21 years of age and have previously been convicted of underage purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of alcohol. Expungements for certain offenses may also be available for individuals who have successfully completed an ARD program, as well as for juveniles who have not been convicted or adjudicated delinquent of a felony or misdemeanor for a five (5) year period following disposition. The same may be true for individuals for whom charges have been dismissed.
Upon a court ordered expungement, all criminal history record information and, in some instances, all administrative records of the Department of Transportation relating to the conviction or arrest is destroyed. As such, the expunged record will not appear on background checks.
Currently, Pennsylvania does not permit the expungement of convictions for misdemeanors and felonies, except in very limited circumstances; however, legislation has been proposed that would expand one’s ability to expunge certain misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct and possession of a small amount of marijuana.