Pennsylvania Expands Their Clean Slate Law
Studies show that the arrest rate in our state has steadily declined for the past 10 years with a total of 339,407 arrests in 2019, a 27% decrease from 2010, according to the Pennsylvania Commission of Crime and Delinquency.
Even so, it’s still a widely accepted fact that there are simply far too many people being convicted of low-level crimes and facing lasting negative consequences because of this. Perhaps one of the most insidious of these effects is that the crime remains on your permanent record, which affects your life long after you have served your time and paid your dues. However, recent changes made by the Pennsylvania General Assembly surrounding having your records sealed have led to a positive shift.
For more information and to speak with a criminal defense attorney about your case and how this could affect you, call us at Strand Law Offices, LLC. We’re located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and can help those in Lancaster County and surrounding counties throughout Pennsylvania.
What Is Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Law?
Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Law is a landmark piece of legislation passed in 2018—the first of its kind in the nation—that seals criminal records for certain individuals who had convictions in their past. The law affects those who have been convicted of lower-level, nonviolent misdemeanor crimes and have stayed crime-free for the last 10 years by allowing them to request that their record be sealed from public view.
The Clean Slate Law also automatically seals records for those who’ve remained crime-free for 10 years and were convicted of second- or third-degree misdemeanors or those whose trials resulted in a non-conviction.
Importantly, sealing a case is different from the act of expungement, though both may have the same benefits:
Sealing: When a case is sealed, it is hidden from public view meaning when someone such as a potential employer or landlord runs a background check on you, it will not show up. That said, the record still exists and is viewable for certain parties, namely those in law enforcement.
Expungement: When a record is expunged, it is completely erased as if it never existed. An expunged record won’t show up for the public or for law enforcement.
What Changes Were Recently Made?
One of the main requirements to have your record sealed under the original Clean Slate Law was that you had to have paid all your court-ordered financial obligations first. However, this provision was widely criticized since it essentially barred the majority of candidates from getting a fresh start simply because they were unable to pay their fines.
To address this, the Pennsylvania General Assembly unanimously passed House Bill 440 in 2020. This bill amends the Clean Slate Law to say that these unpaid court-ordered debts will no longer be considered when sealing a record, paving the way for literally millions of cases to now be sealed.
Studies show that half of all past misdemeanor charges in Pennsylvania that would have otherwise been sealed have not been eligible due to the requirement to pay court fees. In many cases, these fees are only a few hundred dollars, but when the overwhelming majority of those who owe debt are impoverished or unemployed, even this small amount is an obstacle.
Who Is Eligible?
In general, to be eligible to have your record sealed under the new Clean Slate Law, you must meet the following criteria:
Have been convicted of a non-violent misdemeanor crime that carried a sentence of no more than five years in prison (some first-degree misdemeanor crimes will make you ineligible, such as offenses against family, sexual offenses that required registration as a sex offender, and those involving firearms)
Have been convicted of a summary offense (typically low-level offenses, sometimes referred to as “non-traffic citations” such as loitering, harassment, or disorderly conduct)
You’ve been crime-free for the last 10 years, OR
Your case was fully acquitted or pardoned (your records will be automatically sealed and you do not have to petition the courts)
Many of these past convictions will now be automatically sealed and no action will be needed on your part. However, there are others where you may need to petition the court to seal under this law, and it’s here that a reputable criminal defense attorney can be extremely helpful. While this process is not terribly difficult, it is one that you want to do right, and by working with an experienced lawyer, you’ll have a trusted partner who can help you address any complications or questions that come up.
Get in Touch With a Knowledgeable Attorney Today
If you’re anywhere in the West Chester, Pennsylvania, area and feel your past criminal convictions may be eligible for sealing under the Clean Slate Law, reach out to our team at Strand Law Offices, LLC. We’ll help you to learn more and start working toward a brighter future you deserve.