PA’s New Law is Good News for Non-Violent Offenders With Criminal Records

On Tuesday, February 16, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 166 (Criminal History Sealing Expansion Bill) which amended Title 18 (crimes and offenses) to allow the sealing of criminal records for persons convicted of non-violent crimes. Previously in Pennsylvania these individuals weren’t eligible for any type of relief and their criminal records prevented them from maintaining or seeking employment as well as other professional opportunities. It’s important to understand that this new law doesn’t allow the expungement of felony offenses but only the sealing non-violent misdemeanors which would include convictions for possession of drugs, DUI, retail theft, and certain disorderly conduct offenses. Misdemeanor offenses are more serious than summary offenses but less serious then felony offenses. While a misdemeanor conviction normally doesn’t subject a person to a prison term the person will serve some period of probation and, until now, had to deal with a lifetime criminal record.

Pennsylvania joins more than 27 states which seal misdemeanor convictions and some states even seal felony convictions. Technically the law doesn’t expunge a person’s criminal record. Sealing the record only allows law enforcement and certain state licensing agencies to access the record but not employers conducting background checks.  A person qualifies under this new law if they have remained arrest free for 7-10 years following their conviction for non-violent misdemeanor. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the new law doesn’t automatically seal old records and a person still must file a petition with the Court of Common Pleas to get their record sealed. Once the Petition is filed the District Attorney’s Office has the right to contest the Petition at a formal hearing before a Judge. During this hearing your criminal defense attorney must be prepared to argue for the sealing of your records against the District Attorney’s challenge. If you have more questions about this new law please contact our office regarding it.  For more information on criminal defense, please check out our free resource center.  

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