On February 23,2016 the Pennsylvania State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill166, which allows the expungement of some misdemeanor convictions in Pennsylvania after the former offender has satisfied a ten year waiting period. Codified at 18 Pa. C.S.A. 18 Pa. C.S.A. Section 9122.1, this bill helps many who committed low-level misdemeanor offenses in Pennsylvania put their prior mistakes behind them.
“A low-level misdemeanor in a person’s past can often serve as a continual barrier when seeking work, long after they have completed their sentence,” State Senator Stewart Greenleaf, the legislation’s sponsor, stated in his memorandum announcing the introduction of this bill. According to Senator Greenleaf, Section 9122.1 will help the Commonwealth by “countering high rates of recidivism, relieving an overburdened pardon system, and providing an opportunity for ex-offenders to join our workforce.”
Pennsylvania’s current expungement law prevents individuals with misdemeanor or felony convictions from clearing their record, no matter of how much time has passed. Currently, expungement is permitted only if the offender is over seventy years of age and conviction free for five years or if the person has been dead for three years. 18 Pa. C.S.A. Section 9122.1 allows people who have been convicted of nonviolent second or third degree misdemeanors to petition to have their criminal records expunged if they have not been rearrested for ten years.
Certain convictions remain ineligible for expungement under the new law. They include convictions for simple assault (except if graded as a misdemeanor of the third degree), impersonating a public servant, intimidation of a witness and intimidation, retaliation or obstruction in a case of child abuse.
Under the new law, a record of the conviction is maintained by law enforcement officials but they are not permitted to disseminate that information to anyone outside of law enforcement. The effect is to seal the record rather than destroy it, which is done in the case of a traditional expungement. The sealed conviction can be used by licensing agencies as they see fit or by a district attorney if an individual whose record has been expunged is later arrested. It also cannot be used to restore the right to posses a firearm.
Pennsylvania now joins a growing number of states across the nation that have changed their expungement laws in order to reduce the negative effects of a criminal history on a former offender when he or she tries to find employment and contribute to society. Legislators are fmally beginning to realize the importance of giving former offenders the opportunity to move forward with their lives without the stigma that comes with a criminal conviction. An individual should not be stigmatized for life due to one mistake.