In November 2016, Pennsylvania law changed so as to now permit certain prior convictions to be sealed by the courts, thereby preventing the general public from accessing such records. However, these “sealed” records will still be accessible by government law enforcement agencies and state government licensing agencies. For the first time under Pennsylvania law, such “limited access” now allows persons with prior convictions the opportunity to, on a limited basis properly conceal their criminal record.
The new general rule is that convictions for Misdemeanors of the 2nd and 3rd degree are eligible to be sealed. However, most simple assaults are excluded, as are the crimes of impersonating a public official, intimidation of a witness, sex with animals, any offense requiring registration as a sex offender, or any offense where a person has been convicted of four or more offenses graded as a Misdemeanor of the 2nd degree or higher. The only additional requirement to obtain limited access is that the person has been free from arrest or prosecution for 10 years following the end of his/her period of probation or parole, or his/her release from prison, whichever is later.
Limited access is granted only after a Petition for Limited Access is filed with a court. Once granted, an individual who was previously convicted of the offenses on which limited access has been granted can properly and legitimately answer “No” to any question by a private agency entity or employer as to whether that person has ever been convicted of those misdemeanors which have been sealed. For example, a person who has led a law abiding life except for 2 DUI convictions in 2003 may now petition the court to have those records sealed. If that Petition has been granted, he may answer “No” to any questions on a job application as to whether he has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. Any criminal background search conducted by the potential employer would not reveal the 2003 DUIs.
This “limited access” law more closely aligns Pennsylvania to the access restrictions of some of its sister states, but should not be confused with a complete “expungement”, which essentially completely eradicates an offense from a person’s background (with the limited exception of past DUI offenses for the purpose of grading future DUIs). As distinguished from an expungement, sealed records under this new law remain accessible by the aforementioned law enforcement agencies.
A word to the wise, however: information previously released to news agencies, etc. and posted on the Internet are not subject to limited access restrictions. News articles or postings on websites would still potentially be accessible by the public.
For more information contact Dan Bush. Dan is a criminal defense attorney at Lamb McErlane’s West Chester, PA office. Dan is a former prosecutor in the Chester County District Attorney’s office who has twenty years of experience prosecuting and defending individuals charged with a crime. He chairs Lamb McErlane’s criminal litigation department and is a partner in the firm.