Since the Great Recession, many employers have enjoyed the opportunity to choose among multiple eager, qualified candidates for all open positions. Although unemployment rates have improved, some employers are still being choosy, and if you have a criminal conviction in your past -- even a minor misdemeanor or juvenile offense -- you could find yourself repeatedly being passed over for employment opportunities. Fortunately, there are some provisions in Pennsylvania law that can allow you to have a criminal conviction sealed from an official background check or expunged. Read on to learn more about the situations in which your criminal convictions could be sealed or even permanently removed from your record, as well as how pending changes in Pennsylvania law could help make this process available to even more citizens.
When can your criminal records be sealed from employers' view?
Whenever a conviction is entered against you -- for anything from a traffic ticket to a major felony -- this conviction is cross-referenced against your personal data. This means that your Social Security number, legal name, and any aliases are all tied to this conviction, and someone with access to public court records can find this information quickly.
If you were convicted of a misdemeanor as a juvenile, once you reach adulthood you can have your criminal records sealed to all but law enforcement. This ensures you'll have a clean background check for employment purposes, although you'll still likely be required to answer "yes" if asked verbally or in writing whether you've ever been convicted of a criminal offense. If you're arrested for another crime at a later point, your previous conviction will be available to law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney and may be used to give you a longer sentence.
If you were convicted of a "summary offense" as an adult (a traffic infraction or minor misdemeanor that didn't involve a jury trial), you may be able to have this offense expunged rather than sealed. The guidelines for the types of crimes that may be expunged can vary -- but as long as your summary offense conviction didn't involve firearm use or possession, physical violence toward humans or animals, or impersonation of law enforcement, it likely qualifies for expungement.
The advantages of expungement are twofold. Because the criminal conviction is not just sealed, but outright dismissed, you can honestly answer "no" when asked by a potential employer whether you've been convicted of a crime. And if you're arrested and charged with criminal conduct in the future, your expunged conviction won't be available to be used to increase your potential sentence.
What proposed laws will change the expungement process?
A bill was recently introduced that could expand the availability of expungement to even more types of crimes. This bill would allow those convicted of second- or third-degree misdemeanors to apply for and receive expungement. Current law allows for the expungement of these types of crimes only if the person applying is over age 70 or was younger than 25 at the time the crime was committed.
If you were arrested for a felony, but were never convicted, you may also be able to have this arrest expunged from your record under the new law. Although an arrest in itself doesn't necessarily imply guilt (especially if the case was dismissed), this alone is often enough to make choosy employers skip past your name toward someone with no arrests in his or her history.
For those who are having difficulty finding or retaining employment because of an old arrest or criminal matter, expungement could be the key to breaking these barriers. You may wish to speak to a criminal defense attorney in your state to see whether this is a good option for you.