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What is Pennsylvania's clean slate law?

Convictions for drug offenses and minor crimes can hamper career and educational chances and have other serious consequences for many years. However, Pennsylvania enacted a clean slate law that requires the sealing of more drug charges and other crimes.

This law took effect at the beginning of 2019. It created an automated computer process for sealing arrests that did not lead to convictions within 60 days, summary convictions after 10 years and certain second and third-degree misdemeanor convictions when there are no other misdemeanor or felony convictions for 10 years after the conviction.

Most employers, landlords, schools and the public will not have access after a criminal record is sealed. Access is restricted to law enforcement such as police and district attorneys, courts, employers who must consider these records by federal law and employers who must use FBI background checks.

Under this law, some first-degree misdemeanors may be sealed. Violent and sexual crimes are usually excluded. The wait for sealing is over 10 years for people who have a record with more than one first-degree misdemeanor.

Second-and third-degree misdemeanors could be sealed after 10 years under earlier laws. Four or more convictions graded as a second-degree misdemeanor or higher requires a 10-year wait for sealing.

Beginning this year, people can now file for sealing of records in the local court where their case was heard. Fees may be required. In two years, the sealing will be automatic. For eligibility, all court fines and costs must have been paid for convictions or a diversionary program like ARD.

Sealed records, however, are not destroyed. A record must be expunged by a court before destruction. Generally, cases are eligible for expungement were there was a not guilty verdict, the charges were dismissed or withdrawn, sentences were completed in diversion programs like ARD and for summary convictions after five years elapsed without an arrest.

Records sealed under this law are not classified as convictions that must be disclosed. A person can answer inquiries about criminal convictions that were sealed by responding that there are no convictions unless a criminal justice agency requested this information or federal law requires disclosure.

Eligibility under the clean slate law and expungement may be complicated. An attorney can help eligible people through these processes.

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