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Clearing Your Criminal Record in Pennsylvania

In the United States of America, there are as many as 100 million people who have criminal records.  Unfortunately, there are many drawbacks to having a criminal record.  These include things such as:

  • Difficulty finding employment;
  • Trouble finding housing;
  • Difficulty obtaining a professional license;
  • Ineligibility for certain types of public aid; and
  • Firearm restrictions

In Pennsylvania, if you have a criminal record, you have various options when it comes to clearing it.  These include

  • Expungement;
  • Automated Sealing/Sealing by Petition in Court; and
  • Pardon by the Governor


What is Expungement?

Quite simply, it means that your criminal record is destroyed and no longer exists, meaning that no one, not even the police or court system, can access it.  Pursuant to the laws in Pennsylvania, only certain types of criminal records can be expunged.

 Can my Record be Expunged?

Generally, criminal history record information may be expunged when:

  • You have reached the age of 70 and have been free of arrest or prosecution for 10 years following final release from confinement or supervision; and
  • You were convicted of a Summary Offense and have been free of arrest or prosecution for 5 years following the conviction for the arrest.

If you were charged criminally and your case was disposed of via ARD, you are also able to have your record expunged pursuant to the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure.  This type of expungement is usually associated with a first offense DUI.  

If you were charged criminally and your charges resulted in non-convictions, you are eligible to have your record expunged immediately.  This includes charges that were "Dismissed," "Withdrawn," "Not Guilty," and "Nolle Prossed."  Keep in mind that although you are eligible to have your record expunged if your criminal charges fall into this category, it is not automatic as there are certain caveats in this category.

What about my Court Costs, Fines, and Restitution?

These all need to be paid before your record can be expunged.

How do I Expunge my Criminal Record?

The procedures for obtaining an expungement are found in the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, specifically:

Can I Expunge my Juvenile Record?

Generally, you can have your juvenile record expunged in Pennsylvania once you turn 18 years old, however it is not automatic.  You will have to file a petition with the court, and it will only be granted if you satisfy specific requirements.  The statute for juvenile record expungement can be found here.


What Does it Mean if Your Record is Sealed?

Quite simply, it means that most people cannot see it.  Your record is sealed from public view, but it is not completely removed or destroyed.

Who Can See a Sealed Record?

A sealed record can be accessed by:

  • Potential employers who submit requests for an FBI background check;
    • Sealed cases are currently reported on FBI background checks.
  • Potential employers where federal law requires a background check for employment;
  • Law enforcement agencies, such as
    • Police;
    • District Attorneys/Prosecutors; and
    • Criminal Courts
  • Some court cases that involve:
    • Dependency;
    • Custody; and
    • PFAs
  • Gun ownership and use applications;
  • International Travel; and
  • Immigration
Who Cannot See a Sealed Record?

A sealed record cannot be accessed by:

  • The general public;
  • Landlords;
  • Schools; and
  • Employers that do not use FBI background checks
Can my Record be Sealed?

Generally, criminal history record information may be sealed when: 

  • All non-convictions are eligible to be sealed;
  • Summary convictions are eligible to be sealed 10 years after the conviction; and
  • Convictions for many second and third degree misdemeanors after 10 years without any further convictions.  It should be noted that eligibility to have misdemeanor convictions sealed is complex. 
  • Check here to see if you are eligible.
How do I Seal my Criminal Record?

In Pennsylvania, your criminal record history may be sealed automatically, or you may have to file a petition with the court, much like an expungement.  Pennsylvania has automatic sealing as part of the Clean Slate law which was passed in 2018.  Generally, after a certain period of time, Pennsylvania will automatically seal certain convictions.  Some convictions can only be sealed after a petition is filed and granted by the court.

What is a Pardon?

In Pennsylvania, if your record cannot be expunged or sealed, you have one final option, a pardon.  A pardon is an act by the Governor of Pennsylvania that erases a criminal conviction from your record.  A pardon is generally the only way a felony can be eliminated from your criminal record.

Who Can I Receive a Pardon?

Generally, anyone who has a criminal record may apply for a pardon.

How do I Receive a Pardon?

Receiving a pardon from the Governor is a lengthy process that requires several steps:

  • Request an application
    • The first step in the process is to obtain an application from the Board of Pardons website.  Your application should include all of the required information about the criminal convictions you want pardoned.
  • Collecting records
    • In order for your application to be considered "complete," you will need to gather certain information and documentation for your application.  This includes things such as a copy of your criminal complaint, plea or verdict disposition sheet, and sentencing order.  These records must be certified copies and can be obtained from the county in which your case was filed.
  • Supplementing your records
    • Collect any applicable documents that show your character, education and any other relevant life accomplishments.  These records can include letters from friends or family members that speak to your character and accomplishments.
  • Personal essay
    • Your application requires you to discuss the specific details of the crime, your conduct since the crime was committed, and your explanation of why you should be pardoned.  You want to be truthful and provide thoughtful answers as to what led to your conviction and how you have taken responsibility for your actions.  
  • Submit your application
    • Once an application is received at the Board of Pardons office and is found to be complete and accurate, it is considered "filed." A letter will be sent to confirm the filing of the application.  If the application is considered incomplete, it will not be considered filed until all requirements have been fulfilled.
    • The Board will file your completed application a few months after receiving it.

Even once your application is considered complete and filed, there are still additional steps in the review process before a pardon is granted:

  • Interview
    • About 2 years after the Board files your completed application, you will be interviewed by a state parole agent.  The purpose of this interview is collect information about you for an investigative report that the agent will then prepare.
  • Review of application
    • At this point, your application and investigative report are sent to the Board to be reviewed.  Generally, to receive a hearing, 2 of the 5 members of the Board must vote to grant you one.  It generally takes around 1 year for the Board to decide to whether or not to grant you a public hearing.
    • If the Board decides not to grant you a public hearing, your application for a pardon has been denied.
    • If you are granted a hearing, it is held in Harrisburg.
  • Hearing in Harrisburg
    • Hearings are held in the Supreme Courtroom in Harrisburg.
    • At the hearing, which lasts around 15 minutes, you will answers questions from the Board and present your case.
    • At the end of the session, the Board takes a public vote on all cases presented during the session.
    • If 3 or more members of the Board vote in your favor, the Board's recommendation that you receive a pardon is forwarded to the Governor.
  • Governor's role
    • The current Governor of Pennsylvania has the final decision as to whether or not you are granted a pardon, but tends to follow the recommendation of the Board.  
    • If the Governor grants the pardon, you will receive a signed document from him.
    • It usually takes around a year to receive a decision once the recommendation is received from the Board.
  • Final step
    • Once you receive the signed pardon document from the Governor, the final step is to file a petition with the court in the county in which you were convicted, to expunge your record.
    • It will take around 2-6 months for the courts and Pennsylvania State Police to expunge your record, once the judge signs the order.

As you can see, the process to obtain a pardon is quite lengthy and takes several years.

Factors Considered in Pardon Applications

The Board of Pardons considers several factors in considering pardon applications, they include:

  • The time that has elapsed since your conviction;
  • If you have complied with court requirements and paid all of your fines, costs, and restitution;
  • Do you show remorse;
  • Have you made positive changes to your life;
  • What is the specific need for the pardon; and
  • If there was a victim, how your crime impacted their life
Contact Us Today

If you or a loved one have any questions about your criminal record, call Sklarosky Law today at (570) 283-1200 or use our online contact form and tell us about your potential case.  Do not wait, as you may have options when it comes to dealing with your criminal record.


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