Criminal Law

Record Sealing and Expungement in Pennsylvania

By Jessica Gillespie, Legal Researcher and Editor
In Pennsylvania, some criminal records can be sealed or expunged so that the general public cannot access them.

If you have an arrest or conviction record, it can present substantial barriers to finding employment or housing and obtaining a professional license. However, Pennsylvania law permits people to remove certain arrests or convictions from their criminal record through processes called “expungement” or record “sealing” by court order (called an “order for limited access”). After your record is expunged or sealed, it becomes inaccessible to the general public.

What Does It Mean to Have Your Record Expunged or Sealed?

In Pennsylvania, expungement and record sealing under an order for limited access are two different processes. But when a record is sealed or expunged, most potential employers who conduct background checks, for example, will be prohibited from accessing the information, and in many cases you may legally state that you were never arrested or convicted of a crime.

Expungement. If a court orders your record to be expunged, it must be physically, except that the prosecuting attorney and the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository must retain copies. The expunged information is kept confidential and can only be viewed by the courts or law enforcement agencies upon request. In most cases, it is as if the incident never happened. (18 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 9102, 9122 (2018).)

Sealing under an order of limited access. While criminal records that have been sealed under an order for limited access are not physically destroyed, members of the general public—including landlords and private employers—cannot gain access to them. Under Pennsylvania law, only criminal justice agencies, professional licensing boards, and the child protective services division of the state Department of Human Services will be able to view sealed information. (18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9121 (2018).)

Who Is Eligible to Have a Criminal Record Expunged or Sealed in Pennsylvania?

Obtaining an expungement or an order for limited access can help clean up your criminal record, but not all criminal records are eligible. Read on to see if your arrest or conviction record can be expunged or sealed.

Records Eligible for Expungement

Conviction records for summary offenses. Your criminal record may be eligible for expungement if you were convicted of a summary offense (a low-level offense that carries a potential punishment of a fine and/or up to 90 days in jail) and you have not been arrested or prosecuted for any other crime for at least five years since that conviction. (18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9121 (2018).)

Arrest records. If you were arrested but no disposition has been recorded for your case within 18 months and no criminal proceedings are pending against you, you may petition the court to have your arrest record expunged. (18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9121 (2018).)

Cases resolved through an ARD program. If you were placed on and successfully completed an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, your criminal record may be eligible for expungement. However, if the case involved a sex crime committed against a minor, your criminal record cannot be expunged. (18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9121 (2018).)

Underage purchase, consumption, or possession of alcohol. If you were at least 18 but younger than 21 when you were convicted of underage drinking, and you have successfully completed all terms of your sentence and are now at least 21 years old, you may be able to have your record expunged. (18 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 6308, 9121 (2018).)

If you are 70 years old or older. Your criminal history may also qualify for expungement if you are at least 70 years old and have not been arrested or prosecuted for ten years following your release from incarceration or supervision. (18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9121 (2018).)

Records Eligible for Sealing Under an Order for Limited Access

You be eligible to receive an order of limited access if you were convicted of a second- or third-degree misdemeanor or an ungraded offense that carries a maximum penalty of no more than two years’ imprisonment. You must wait ten years after you have completed all terms of your sentence to apply, and you cannot have been arrested or prosecuted for any other crime during that ten-year waiting period. (18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122.1 (2018).)

Some criminal records can never be sealed by an order for limited access, including convictions for impersonating a public official, intimidating a witness or victim, and any crime that requires you to register as a sex offender. (See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122.1(b) for the full list of disqualifying offenses.)

How Do You File for Expungement or an Order for Limited Release?

If your record is eligible for expungement or sealing, you will need to complete a Petition for Expungement or Petition for Limited Access form and file it with the court where your case was handled. The forms require you to provide personal information and details about each record you want expunged or sealed. Contact the arresting agency or the court if you need copies of records related to your case.

Petition forms can be found on the website of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania. Note that there are multiple petition forms, so be sure to choose the one that applies to your case.

Get Legal Help

Pennsylvania’s expungement and record sealing rules are complicated. To learn more about the law—and to find out if your criminal history record is eligible for sealing or expungement—contact an experienced criminal law attorney.

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