Wolf signs bill sealing some criminal records after decade
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Lower-level, nonviolent crimes in Pennsylvania will automatically be sealed from public review after 10 years under a law signed Thursday, a change designed to lessen the stigma for people seeking jobs or housing.
The so-called “clean slate” legislation that was inked into law by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf also seals records of arrests that did not result in convictions.
The law does not expunge convictions, and after they are sealed the convictions will still be available to police, courts and prosecutors.
Wolf said the law will help people “get back on their path to a blemish-free life.”
A provision expressly allows those with sealed records who are asked about them to “respond as if the offense did not occur,” although there are exceptions that include criminal justice agencies.
The misdemeanor records will be automatically sealed if the defendant has gone a decade without a new conviction.
“The only way to really reintegrate folks into our society is by cleaning up sealing these records and giving them a clean slate,” said Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, at the bill signing event in Wolf’s offices.
The bill limits public access to all summary convictions — the least serious violations — that are 10 years old, as long as the defendant has fulfilled all court-ordered obligations.
It applies to second- and third-degree misdemeanors — first-degree is the most serious — except for offenses involving firearms, cruelty to animals, corruption of minors and other categories.
Defendants are not eligible for sealing if they have a prior criminal history that includes a felony, two first-degree misdemeanors or four second-degree misdemeanors. Also on the disqualifying list are indecent exposure, sexual abuse of animals, abuse of a corpse and a few other offenses.
Those who are not eligible for automatic sealing can ask a judge to seal misdemeanors, with some exceptions.
The bill passed the state Senate unanimously, and the House with only two “no” votes.