New law lets Penn­syl­va­ni­ans hide some old crim­i­nal records

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Mark Scolforo

HARRISBURG >> Penn­syl­va­nia res­i­dents with mi­nor crim­i­nal con­vic­tions that are at least a decade old have be­gun ap­ply­ing to seal those cases from pub­lic view un­der a new state law.

In­ter­est has var­ied widely, with more than 1,000 peo­ple at­tend­ing a set of free le­gal clin­ics on the law last week­end in Philadel­phia but only one ap­pli­cant fil­ing the pa­per­work in heav­ily pop­u­lous York County, for a crim­i­nal mis­chief con­vic­tion. Dauphin County, which in­cludes Harrisburg, has yet to field its first such re­quest, a court of­fi­cial said Fri­day.

The law, which took ef­fect Nov. 14, nine months af­ter it was en­acted, per­tains to less se­ri­ous mis­de­meanors such as tres­pass­ing or van­dal­ism. There is a $132 fee, any pun­ish­ment must have been com­pleted and the de­fen­dant must have re­mained ar­rest-free for a decade .

The record would re­main ac­ces­si­ble to law en­force­ment but not to the wider pub­lic and would not ap­pear in the state courts’ on­line records. If the of­fense was ac­com­pa­nied by more se­ri­ous charges, they would still be pub­lic. District at­tor­neys can ob­ject to any re­quest, and the fi­nal de­ci­sions rest with judges.

By one es­ti­mate, about a third of the state’s workingage adults have some type of crim­i­nal record, a past that can make it dif­fi­cult or im­pos­si­ble to ob­tain cer­tain types of work and limit their hous­ing choices and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“It’s not sad, be­cause you don’t pity these peo­ple, you to­tally em­pathize with them,” said lawyer Meghan Clai­borne, a mem­ber of the Philadel­phia Bar As­so­ci­a­tion’s young lawyers divi­sion who helped or­ga­nize last week­end’s event, which over­whelmed the roughly 180 lawyers who vol­un­teered.

Clai­borne de­scribed de­mand as “huge” and said there were many peo­ple seek­ing help who had of­fenses that aren’t cov­ered by the new law.

“We ran out of sheets for peo­ple to re­search par­dons very quickly,” Clai­borne said. “For a lot of peo­ple, that is the only op­tion.”

A sim­i­lar event held in Pitts­burgh drew about 400 peo­ple, many more than had been ex­pected.

“We hear so of­ten that em­ploy­ers and busi­nesses can’t find the em­ploy­ees that they need,” said Cyn­thia Shields, strate­gic part­ner­ship di­rec­tor for the Three Rivers Work­force In­vest­ment Board, which helped or­ga­nize it. “This is a huge un­tapped group of tal­ent.”

The process is dif­fer­ent than an ex­punge­ment, which per­ma­nently re­moves crim­i­nal records. Ex­punge­ment is avail­able, for ex­am­ple, for sum­mary cases af­ter five years have passed or for peo­ple 70 and over who have been ar­rest-free for 10 years.

Par­dons re­quire a much more com­pli­cated process that in­cludes an ap­pli­ca­tion to the state Board of Par­dons, and they do not by them­selves re­move a record of the of­fense.

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