New law makes it easier to seal records for minor crimes

Pennsylvania has a new law that makes it easier to seal criminal records for minor nonviolent offenses.

A criminal record, even for a relatively minor offense, can be a huge impediment to maintaining one's livelihood and quality of life. One's ability to get a job, a home, or student loans, for example, can all be hampered by a criminal record for decades after one's sentence has been completed. A recently passed law in Pennsylvania, however, is making it easier for some people who have been convicted of minor criminal offenses to get their life back on track. The new law allows for records of a nonviolent second- or third-degree misdemeanor to be sealed if eligible individuals meet certain criteria. The change will help ensure that a single, minor mistake does not end up leading to a lifetime of undue punishment, the law's supporters say.

Sealed records

The new law, formerly Senate Bill 166, was recently signed by Governor Tom Wolf and will go into effect across Pennsylvania this November. The law allows for those who have been convicted of and have served their sentences for a single nonviolent second- or third-degree misdemeanor to petition the court to have the record of that misdemeanor sealed so long as they have gone seven years since their conviction without a new offense.

The new law will only apply to those who have a single offense on an otherwise clean record. If no objection is raised to the sealing of the record, then the petition will be automatically granted. Convictions that are sealed under the new law will no longer be visible to the public, such as during background checks that are often conducted for employment, housing, and loan applications. The convictions would still be visible to law enforcement and government agencies.

A tool to get ahead

Supporters of the new law point out that sealing a person's criminal record, especially for a nonviolent misdemeanor, is both in that individual's and society's interests. A person who is burdened by a criminal record can find it extremely difficult to restart his or her life after completing a sentence. One lawmaker who supported the new law noted that one federal study found people with a criminal record in Pennsylvania faced 550 life obstacles as a result of their record. Furthermore, society is ill-served by preventing people who are willing to work or pursue an education from doing so.

As PennLive notes, while a wide variety of offenses are eligible for being sealed under the new law, some of the most notable include certain DUI and minor marijuana-possession offenses, along with minor retail theft, disorderly conduct, sexting, and criminal mischief. Pennsylvania will become the 28 th state to allow some misdemeanor or felony convictions to be expunged or sealed.

Criminal defense

While this new law offers hope to some people with a criminal record, it does not change the fact that a conviction for any offense is still a very serious matter. Regardless of the charges one is facing, it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help individuals who have been charged with a crime understand their options and protect their rights.