How to Get a Criminal Record Expungement in Pennsylvania

by | Jan 3, 2022

Pennsylvania offers expungements in various circumstances, most commonly when the arrest did not result in a conviction, minor offenses, completion of an alternative sentencing program, or when your violation occurred while you were a juvenile. Expunging a criminal record will vary depending on the circumstances surrounding your arrest or conviction.

However, not all cases are eligible for expungements. Courts grant them based on legal eligibility. While a judge may feel bad that a prior record impedes you from finding work and supporting a family, they cannot give an expungement unless Pennsylvania laws permit them under the given circumstances. In short, there must be a statute that authorizes a court to expunge a record.

In This Article

In this article, a Philadelphia expungement lawyer will answer several vital questions surrounding expungements in Pennsylvania while addressing other legal alternatives if you cannot get an expungement.

How Pennsylvania Laws Define “Expungement”

An expungement is a legal action that seals or “erases” an arrest or conviction from your criminal record. It is critical to understand that your arrest record is typically still available to the general public even if your past charges were eventually dismissed. Pennsylvania’s CPCMS or UJS Portal system can be used by anyone to see your arrest record. However, once the judge signs the expungement order, your charges remain hidden from the public eye.

You can read 18 Pa.C.S. § 9122, which is Pennsylvania’s expungement statute, here.

Who Can Get Their Criminal Charges Expunged?

Expungement rules in Pennsylvania are explicit. In general, the following individuals are eligible for expungement in Pennsylvania:

  • Criminal charges were dropped before trial
  • Found not guilty following a jury or judge trial
  • Completed an alternative sentencing programming
  • Summary offense convictions over five (5) years ago with no arrests since
  • Three (3) years after death
  • Reaching age seventy (70) without new convictions in the ten (10) years following sentence completion

If you are unsure about your expungement eligibility, speak with a criminal defense lawyer to learn more about your situation. You may have legal options available not previously known to your case. The conversation may even reveal why hiring a criminal defense lawyer is important.

Advantages of Expunging a Criminal Record

We all make mistakes. Sometimes these severe oversights result in the filing of criminal charges. However, even if the criminal charges are dropped or dismissed, or you are found not guilty, they can still harm your future if they remain on your record.

Criminal Records Create Barriers

You might be having a hard time obtaining employment or professional licensure. In today’s job market, there are enough roadblocks in your path to financial and professional success without evidence of an arrest, not to mention that Pennsylvania provides public access to court records online.

Expungements Create Opportunities

As a result, take the necessary legal steps to ensure that eligible charges are expunged from your record. Obtaining an expungement can relieve you from the heavy burden of a criminal conviction or arrest. However, expungements are not granted automatically, meaning that you should seek legal advice when pursuing one.

Will Courts Expunge Criminal Records Automatically?

In most cases, a court will not automatically expunge a criminal record in Pennsylvania. Therefore, you will need to hire a criminal defense lawyer to file an expungement petition on your behalf. Except in Philadelphia, there are no circumstances under which expungement is automatic.

Philadelphia Offers Pre-Trial Diversion Programs

Philadelphia offers pre-trial diversion programs that include automatic expungement without filing a formal expungement petition. If you enroll in and successfully complete the Small Amount of Marijuana (SAM) or Summary Diversion programs, the court will handle the expungement process on your behalf.

Alternative Misdemeanor Program

The charges will be dismissed if you enroll in and complete the Alternative Misdemeanor Program (AMP). However, you must file a Petition to have your record expunged, and these opportunities are rare. It is your responsibility to ensure criminal records have been expunged.

If you are unsure which diversion program you completed, you should contact an experienced Philadelphia expungement attorney as soon as possible. You should also know that an expungement does not erase all evidence of your criminal arrest and charges. The Clerk of Courts distributes the record to all appropriate justice departments, including local police, state police, and the District Attorney’s Office, meaning that it can take up to six (6) months for complete processing.

What Happens When You Cannot Get an Expungement?

Though the standard for expunging misdemeanors and felonies is strict, you are not without legal options. A Philadelphia criminal record expungement lawyer has the knowledge, training, and experience necessary for developing a case strategy and helping you exhaust all possibilities.

While every expungement case is unique, there are a few additional options as outlined below:

Seal Your Record

Another alternative is to seal your criminal record. Individuals convicted of first, second, or third-degree misdemeanors, or an offense carrying a maximum sentence of no more than five (5) years imprisonment, may have their records sealed.

You must also wait ten (10) years after completing the sentence while avoiding arrest or criminal prosecution crimes punishable by a year or more during that period. Sealing a criminal record has a similar effect to expungement in that the record is no longer available to the general public, including potential employers.

However, law enforcement agencies will continue to have access to your record.

Pardon Eligibility

In some cases, first-degree misdemeanor records cannot be sealed. If you cannot seal or expunge your Pennsylvania criminal record, you may be eligible for a Pardon, which has a similar effect to an expungement.

This Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania’s website also answers questions about expungements.

Steps for Getting a Pennsylvania Criminal Record Expungement

The truth is that every expungement case has unique needs. However, a general, overarching process is primarily the same for every case. The biggest challenge typically comes from proving that the expungement is allowable under current state laws, which is why many people hire legal representation.

Let’s take a closer look at each step in the process below:

Step 1. Get a Copy of Your Record

The expungement petition should include your name, date of birth, social security number, the offenses for which the subject was charged, docket number, and disposition. If you do not provide this information, courts may dismiss the Petition. As a result, it is critical to obtain a copy of your criminal history before filing one.

Step 2. File the Expungement Petition

Once you have obtained your records, you must file an expungement petition. Complete the form or draft the pleading while attaching any supporting documentation for submission. You must also pay a required filing fee and provide a copy to the district attorney’s office.

A Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney can assist you in completing and filing the requisite documents, ensuring that all requirements are met. Any error or omission may result in the denial of your expungement request regardless of merit.

The court will consider your Petition once it is filed. This process may take some time, but an order erasing the arrest or conviction from your record will be issued once the court approves.

Important: No Expungements for Sexual Assaults on Minors

Pennsylvania law expressly prohibits courts from expunging records if an individual has been charged with particular sexual assault or related sex offenses against victims under the age of 18, even if the individual has completed the terms of an ARD.

Step 3. Protect DNA Records

You have minimal options for erasing your DNA records. This process can only occur in specific situations. Get legal advice if you are worried about your DNA records remaining with law enforcement officials.

If you have any questions about the criminal record expungement process, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney in Pennsylvania. Shuttleworth Law PC welcomes prospective clients to contact us for a Free Case Evaluation now by calling (215) 774-1371.

You can also message Brad V. Shuttleworth, Esq. via the intake form below. All messages are sent privately and securely. If you cannot meet in our office, we can travel to you or meet through video chat.

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