By Melissa A. Derby, Esquire
There is good news for people who have criminal records. Pennsylvania recently expanded the types of criminal records that can be sealed in order to provide ex-offenders greater opportunity to join the workforce. The new law allows records of misdemeanor guilty pleas and convictions to be sealed. The law applies to ungraded, second degree, and third degree misdemeanors. This expansion is particularly helpful for job seekers.
According to the National Institute of Justice, having a criminal record negatively affects someone’s chance at employment more than any other type of stigma. The vast majority of employers — 87 percent, according to a recent Center for American Progress report — check these records before making hiring decisions. Within the first year of their release from jail, 60 percent of ex-offenders cannot secure jobs. The ones who do make 40 percent less money than their co-workers. Questions about criminal records come up in many other areas of everyday life. The question appears on applications for housing, public benefits, college admissions, loans, and opportunities for volunteer service.
A sealed record will help the record holder in important ways. The sealed record does not have to be disclosed, improving employment opportunities and housing availability. A sealed or expunged record can also improve a person’s ability to obtain financing or a loan. The record will still be available to the government for limited use.
The official process includes filing a petition for limited access with the courts in the county where the conviction occurred. In order to be eligible, a petitioner must be arrest and prosecution-free for ten years following his conviction and final release. The law does have limitations. For example, a person who has at any time been convicted of an offense punishable by imprisonment of more than two years is not eligible. There are also certain offenses that will prevent eligibility, such as intimidating a witness or victim.
This legislation takes effect November 12, 2016, but you can take action now to determine your eligibility. Welch, Gold, Siegel and Fiffik, P.C., represents clients in all stages of the criminal process, including expungements. Contact us today to speak with a member of our criminal defense team regarding eligibility for expungements and sealed records.