Pennsylvanians with minor criminal convictions are seeking to shield their records from public view under a new law that expanded criminal record sealing in the state.
The measure, which Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law in February and took effect this month, allows certain residents convicted of nonviolent second- or third-degree misdemeanors to petition for their cases to be sealed.
Petitioners must pay a $132 expungement fee, and eligibility is limited to offenders who’ve served their sentence and who’ve remained free of arrest or prosecution for seven to ten years.
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.
[L]awyer Meghan Claiborne, a member of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s young lawyers division who helped organize last weekend’s event, … 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.
Under the new law, local prosecutors can file objections to expungement requests, whose final approval rests with judges. Beyond misdemeanors, the law also applies to ungraded offenses that carry no more than two years in prison.
State lawmakers, according to AP, are expected to consider another bill next year that would automatically remove certain low-level, nonviolent criminal convictions from someone’s record after a set period of time.