Pennsylvania has just made it easier for people with nonviolent misdemeanor criminal offenses to have their criminal records sealed from public view.
Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe signed a bill into law that allows people to have their criminal records sealed by a court as long as the offense is no worse than a nonviolent misdemeanor. The bill passed through the state legislature with bipartisan support before being signed into law by the governor.
The new law will only apply to people whose criminal history has been free of any arrests or prosecutions for the past 10 years. The types of criminal records that can be sealed by a judge under the new law include second and third-degree misdemeanors as well as crimes like indecent assault, trespassing and vandalism.
Governor Tom Wolf claims that the new law will alleviate some pressure from Pennsylvania’s pardon system and make it easier for people with minor criminal offenses to find housing and get jobs. Governor Wolf also believes that the new law will save taxpayer dollars. The new law was strongly supported by ex-offender advocates as well as groups like the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the ACLU.
Some supporters of this new law see it as a good start for bigger criminal justice reforms in Pennsylvania.
The new law does not allow for the expungement of these criminal records; it only allows people to request a court order to seal the records from the public record. Once the criminal records are sealed, they should also be removed from employee background check databases. However, even after these records are sealed, the police, judges and other government officials will still be able to view someone’s complete criminal history.
It is estimated that there are upwards of 100 million U.S. citizens with at least one criminal conviction on their record. There are currently 27 states with laws that allow for the sealing or expungement of some misdemeanor and felony records.
Unfortunately for some people, Pennsylvania’s new criminal records law does not take effect until November 2016. At the present time, citizens that want to seal their misdemeanor criminal records are required to submit an appeal to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons for a decision.
Once the new law takes effect in November 2016, people will be able to submit a petition to the court where their offense happened along with a $132.00 filing fee. The local district attorney’s office will then have a 30 day period to review and contest the petition.
If the district attorney’s office does not object to the request, a judge can seal the criminal records without a court hearing.
Some research shows that after seven years of no criminal activity, former offenders are no more likely to commit a crime than the general population.