Expungement and Access to Criminal Records

Expungement is the term used to mean removal of criminal records from governmental files.  The most common use of expungement is in cases of DUI where a criminal arrest record may be removed following an ARD disposition which does not involve an actual conviction of guilt.

On February 16, 2016, Governor Wolf signed into law Act 5 of 2016 which originated from a proposal for an expansion of the current expungement statute to cover second and third degree misdemeanors.  The original proposal was subsequently modified to introduce a new concept – a petition by a convicted defendant for limited public access to criminal records.  The impetus for the new law was “to limit access to information about criminal histories with the primary goal of removing barriers to employment, housing and education” said PBA President Sara A. Austin during a recent news conference in Harrisburg.

In general, the new law, which goes into effect on November 14, 2016, will allow individuals to petition the Court for an order of limited access to information about some non-violent second and third degree misdemeanors, including ungraded offenses, provided the individuals have completed all punishment relating to a previous conviction and have had no other arrests or prosecutions for at least ten years.  The district attorney will have the right to contest any petition.  There is no requirement that the victim of any crime be notified.

Those who benefit will be persons who were convicted of second or third degree misdemeanors and wish to conceal a criminal record for what are arguably comparatively minor offenses.  On the other hand, persons negatively impacted by the new law might be landlords, employers who seek a full background check on prospective employees and litigants who seek to know whether opposing parties have been convicted of “crimen falsi” crimes which might be raised at trial in order to affect creditability.  The opinion of the worth of this legislation will probably be decided by on which side of the aisle a person sits.

Please contact us if you would like to review a copy of the Act or of the Rule of Criminal Procedure which has been enacted in order to effectuate it.

— Bill Brennan



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