A criminal record can follow a person for an entire lifetime, affecting his or her ability to find a job, continue with education, or even sign a lease. Even if a criminal case does not result in a conviction, a record of an arrest and a criminal prosecution remains. It is possible for a person to have records of a criminal case sealed, meaning that no one may view the contents of his or her file without a court order. 

It is also possible, through a process known as expungement, for a person to have the criminal file removed from the public record entirely. The key difference between criminal record expunge and sealing it is that a sealed record still “exists” in both a legal and physical sense, while expungement results in the deletion of any record that an arrest or criminal charge ever occurred.

Criminal Record

Types of Criminal Records

  1. Arrest Records: This records means information indicating that a person has been apprehended, detained, taken into custody, held for investigation, or otherwise restrained by a law enforcement agency or military authority due to an accusation or suspicion that the person committed a crime. Even if the charges were dropped or the person was acquitted, the arrest record may still be accessible.
  2. Conviction Records: It means criminal history record information relating to an incident which has led to a conviction or other disposition adverse to the subject.
  3. Juvenile Records: It refer to a detailed history of a child’s crimes and convictions. While juvenile records are typically sealed, they may still be accessible under certain circumstances.
  4. Misdemeanor and Felony Records: These records distinguish between less serious (misdemeanor) and more serious (felony) offenses. Both can have significant implications for individuals seeking employment or housing. Accessible through a criminal record lookup for comprehensive background checks.

What Is Expungement?

The process of clearing an arrest or conviction from a person’s criminal record is called expungement. While this is an attractive option, it isn’t available for all arrests and convictions. It wipes a record clean (records are physically destroyed). For this reason, the law greatly limits who and what records can benefit from expungement and can have a record clearance as process of rehabilitation.

Only the courts, judicial system, and law enforcement will be able to see any evidence of criminal record expungement. Even then, these agencies can only use the record to identify persons in a criminal investigation or make determinations regarding future charges, diversion eligibility, and sentencing enhancements.

What Is Sealing?

These records are not destroyed; rather, they are protected by what’s called an “Order for Limited Access.” The general public cannot view sealed records. However, these records can be accessed by criminal justice agencies, professional licensing boards, immigration, and child protective services. Whether sealing of criminal records occurs automatically or upon filing a court petition depends on the type of record and the person’s criminal history. In essence, when a person’s record is sealed, it means that it’s not readily available to the public.

Eligibility Criteria

State laws defining the requirements to qualify for expungement vary widely. Criteria for eligibility might include to expunge criminal records:

  • Sufficient time since the indictment or the conclusion of the criminal case;
  • No additional criminal history since the end of the case;
  • No convictions for certain disqualifying offenses, which usually include serious felonies;
  • Minimal prior criminal history; and
  • Completion of all terms of deferred disposition, probation, parole, or the sentence.

Who Qualifies for Expungement or Sealing?

Records that qualify for expungement in Pennsylvania include the following:

  • Non-conviction records: These records include charges that did not result in a conviction, such as when charges are dismissed or withdrawn. 
  • Offenses resolved through an ARD program: Cases successfully completed through an ARD (Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition) program qualify, as long as the charges were unrelated to a sex crime against a minor.
  • Underage drinking offenses: A defendant age 18 or older qualify after the person completes all the sentencing terms and is at least 21
  • Acquittals: A finding of not guilty by a judge or jury is an Acquittal.
  • Summary offenses : They qualify for expungement only if 5 years have passed following conviction, during which time the defendant remained arrest-free.
  • Persons age 70 or older: They may apply for expungement of records when they’ve been arrest-free for 10 years following release from incarceration or supervision
  • Records of a person who’s been deceased for three years may be expunged.

The following conviction records may be eligible for automatic sealing as part of the Clean Slate process:

  • qualifying second- and third-degree misdemeanors and ungraded offenses that carry a maximum sentence of not more than two years in prison
  • summary offenses that are at least 10 years old
  • non-conviction records, and
  • pardoned offenses.

The Expungement and Sealing Process

A person must file a petition for expungement or limited access in the court where the case was or would have been handled. The process also involves paying a filing fee with the court and serving copies of the petition with the District Attorney’s office and court administration. The court forms (petitions) can be found online on the judicial branch’s main website or on some local court websites. If any objections are made to the request, a hearing will be held.

If the court grants the expungement, the petitioner might be responsible for providing copies of the order to any and all law enforcement agencies that have records related to the case. The court clerk typically keeps the main criminal file, but records may also be in the possession of the police department, sheriff’s office, jail, and probation office, as well as any office involved in community service or other requirements.

Is Sealing Your Record the Same As Expungement?

No. The key difference between expunging a criminal record and sealing it is that a sealed record still “exists” in both a legal and physical sense, while expungement results in the deletion of any record that an arrest or criminal charge ever occurred. It is typically standard procedure to seal records of juvenile criminal proceedings once the person turns 18, along with other criminal cases involving a juvenile, but those records are still accessible with a court order.

Getting Criminal Defense Attorney Help For Expungement and Record Sealing

Cleaning up a criminal history can be complicated. If you’re not sure whether your record qualifies for expungement in Philadelphia, contact a Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer who can handle the process for you. They possess the knowledge and experience to evaluate the eligibility of your expungement of a criminal record. They can guide you through the legal process, requirements and assess whether your specific case meets the criteria set by Philadelphia law.