Possible Changes to Pennsylvania’s Expungement Statute

Old Courthouse

On January 15, 2015, Pennsylvania Senate bill SB 166 was introduced, which would allow persons with certain misdemeanor convictions to expunge their records. This is an updated version of a similar bill that was proposed in 2013, but never voted upon. Currently, the law allows for expungement of convictions only in the following limited circumstances:

  • A person who was convicted of a summary offense (non-traffic citation) may seek an expungement if he or she has been free of arrest or prosecution for five years after the conviction. Common summary offenses include disorderly conduct, trespassing, criminal mischief, retail theft, harassment, and public intoxication.
  • An adult (over 18 years old) who was convicted of 18 Pa.C.S. 6308 (underage drinking) may seek an expungement if he or she reaches 21 years old and has satisfied all penalties from the case, including license suspension.
  • A person may seek an expungement of his or her criminal record when he or she reaches 70 years old and has been free of arrest for at least 10 years since release from incarceration, parole or probation.
  • An individual has been dead for 3 years.

As indicated above, expungements of convictions are very limited. Misdemeanors will always be part of your criminal history record and are accessible by employers, family members, schools and even the public. It does not matter how much time has passed, or whether you have been successfully rehabilitated.  If you were convicted of any misdemeanor, you cannot currently seek an expungement unless you are old or dead. SB 166 seeks to change this unfairness of the current law.

Under SB 166, persons with ungraded misdemeanor, third degree misdemeanor and/or second degree misdemeanor convictions will be allowed to expungement their record once a certain amount of time has passed. For ungraded and third degree misdemeanors, a person must wait 7 years. For second degree misdemeanors that occurred when a person was under the age of 25, he or she must wait 10 years. The bill would not allow expungement of any of the following misdemeanors:

  • An offense punishable by imprisonment of two years or more
  • Four or more offenses punishable by imprisonment of one year or more
  • Firearm offenses
  • Simple assault graded as a second degree misdemeanor
  • Animal abuses until section 3129
  • An offense of impersonating a public officer
  • An offense of intimidating or retaliating against a witness
  • An offense of cruelty to animals
  • Meghan’s law registration offenses

At this point, the status of the bill is unclear. However, there is much to be addressed. Unfortunately, the bill does not include first degree misdemeanor convictions, even for first time offenders. In addition, the bill distinguishes between those under 25 years old and those over 25 years old who have second degree misdemeanors. This type of distinction is fundamentally unfair to people who otherwise become successful members of society many years down the line. Hopefully, the current hiatus status of the bill means there will be changes to the final version.

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