Two years ago, Pennsylvania passed a revolutionary law that vowed to automatically seal tens of millions of criminal records. Now, the state legislature is updating that law to make it even more accessible to ex-offenders.
Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Law grabbed headlines in the worlds of criminal justice, background checks, and human resources in 2018. The law rendered many Pennsylvania residents with criminal backgrounds eligible to have their records sealed automatically. While violent crimes, sex offenses, or other felonies were not eligible, the law resulted in many minor examples of criminal activity being removed from the public record in bulk. Included on the eligibility list were arrests that did not lead to conviction, summary convictions from more than 10 years ago, and some second or third-degree misdemeanor offenses. According to Pennsylvania newspaper The Morning Call, the Clean Slate Law had brought about the sealing of some 35 million criminal records in the state as of this past summer.
Through a bipartisan push in the Pennsylvania Legislature—and a unanimous vote—the Clean Slate Law will soon receive an amendment that removes the most controversial part of the original law. As originally written, the Clean Slate Law only offered eligibility to ex-offenders if all their court fines, fees, and costs had been paid. The amended version of the law will remove this statute and allow eligible records to be sealed even if offenders still have unpaid court costs.
Proponents of the amendment argue that ex-offenders without significant financial means were often put in a vicious cycle due to the way the law was structured. Their criminal records acted as barriers that made getting a job difficult. In many cases, those criminal records were qualified for expungement, but only if the person could afford the court fees. The result was that some offenders could not pay those fees and get their records sealed without a good job, which they in turn could not get without first having their records sealed. The goal of the legislation is to make it easier for ex-offenders to get jobs.
Once the amendment to the law is signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (who has communicated his intention to sign), the state will have a period of one year to seal any eligible cases. Individuals who wish to have their records sealed sooner will be able to start petitioning county courts 60 days after the bill is signed.
For clarification, the Clean Slate Law does not expunge records. The records still exist, are still visible to law enforcement, and can still be referenced or considered in the event of a future criminal prosecution. Certain employers also have the ability to access sealed records if federal law requires them to do so, or if their pre-employment vetting incorporates FBI background checks. Examples might include schools, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, or banking institutions.
At backgroundchecks.com, we are proud to offer our own clean slate program, called MyClearStart. We work with ex-offenders to help them determine their eligibility for expungement or records sealing and advise on the next steps of the process. Contact us today to learn more.