Pennsylvania Gives Criminals a Clean Slate

Friday begins the dawn of a new era for Pennsylvania citizens. A law that was signed last year to seal millions of criminal records as part of a Clean Slate bill will go into effect that day.

The new law will wipe clean nearly half of all the charges in the state of Pennsylvania’s court database by this time next year.

Pennsylvania is the first state to put a law of this kind to use, although several others are looking into similar ideas.

Last year when it was signed into existence, it was done so with a nearly unanimous vote by state legislation.

The law went into effect on Friday, June 28, 2019, and will give state courts until June of next year to seal nearly 30 million records automatically.

Before this law, people must have filed court petitions to have their record sealed, according to the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

Governor Tom Wolf said last year after signing the bill into action, “I am proud to sign this legislation, which will make it easier for those who have interacted with the justice system to reduce the stigma they face when looking for employment and housing.”

The idea is to give those with a criminal record a second chance, so to speak, and the ability to do things like getting a good job, buying a home, or even going to college.

But before you get concerned that your college roommate or your new neighbor is a convicted serial killer, there are a few things you should know.

Firstly, not all criminals are eligible for a Clean Slate.

Only those who have been found not guilty or those who have committed nonviolent crimes more than ten years ago will have their records sealed.

Also, those who served less than two years in prison for misdemeanor offenses will be sealed, as well as charges that ended with no convictions. People must have also paid for all of their court fees and fines to be eligible.

Those who are found guilty of crimes on a more severe note such as sexual assault, homicide, violence, and child endangerment will not be eligible.

Secondly, they may be sealed but not gone.

It’s also important to note that while some criminal records will be sealed, they will still be accessible to law enforcement agencies, those who use FBI background checks, and employers who require criminal records to be considered under federal law.

According to the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, records that have been sealed do not show up on background checks that most employers, landlords, and colleges use.

The group says, “If information regarding criminal history is requested by an employer, school, or landlord, a person whose cases have been sealed by Clean Slate may respond as if the offense did not occur. If your whole record has been sealed, you can say you do not have any record.”

And it appears the idea is catching on.

According to the Center for American Progress, between 70 and 100 million Americans have a criminal record of some sort, making it difficult to get loans of just about kind, go to college, and find decent work.

This new law is to help those who made stupid decisions when they were young get a fresh start and make something better of themselves.

Other states, such as Colorado and Michigan, are beginning to consider implementing similar legislation, as is Congress.

Last year a similar bill was introduced that would clear specific federal records.