PBA and County Bar Associations Providing Information about Expungement and New Law Limiting Access to Criminal Records

HARRISBURG (Oct. 4, 2016) – The Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) and 34 county bar associations are launching a statewide informational campaign, “Understanding Expungement and Limited Access to Criminal Records,” which provides an overview of Pennsylvania’s existing expungement laws and a new law that will limit access to information about certain second- and third-degree misdemeanors, including ungraded offenses.  

“In addition to its existing expungement laws, Pennsylvania is joining a growing number of other states that are implementing new laws that limit access to information about criminal histories with the primary goal of removing barriers to employment, housing and education,” said PBA President Sara A. Austin during a news conference at the state Capitol Rotunda. 

“Pennsylvania’s new law, which goes into effect on Nov. 14, will allow individuals to petition the court for an order of limited access to information about some nonviolent second- and third-degree misdemeanors, including ungraded offenses, provided the individuals have completed all punishment from previous convictions and have had no arrests or prosecutions for at least 10 years.

“Although the general public will no longer have access to some information, criminal histories will still be available to law enforcement and state licensing agencies,” said Austin.

The law’s intent is to provide relief for those who have been guilty of a nonviolent offense in the past and are striving to move forward with their lives, said Michael B. Lee of Philadelphia, co-chair of the PBA Legal Services to the Public Committee and executive director and supervising attorney of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity.

“I am hopeful that this new law limiting access to some criminal records will open doors for many individuals who are denied employment, housing and education because of bad decisions and actions from many years ago. Too many first-time and low-level offenders completed all the punishment associated with their offenses but have been unable to improve their lives because of their records. This law offers them hope for a better future,” said Lee.

Under the new law, a person who qualifies for relief may file a petition with the court of common pleas in the county where the case was filed. The District Attorney’s Office will be notified of the petition and will have an opportunity to file an objection. Ultimately, the judge assigned to the matter will decide whether to grant or deny the petition. 

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Criminal Procedural Rules Committee proposed rules that would provide additional details about how to file a petition for limited access. When finalized by the court, the filing procedures will be posted on the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts website: http://www.pacourts.us.

“Before an individual considers filing a petition, it is important to clarify that the law specifically excludes some individuals from the limited access process,” said Charles T. DeTulleo of West Chester, former chair of the PBA Criminal Justice Section. 

“Individuals with otherwise eligible offenses are excluded if they have offenses punishable by more than two years in prison or four or more offenses punishable by one or more years in jail. Also excluded are some subsets of misdemeanor simple assault offenses, some subsets of sex crime offenses, some subsets of witness intimidation offenses, and offenses that require Megan’s Law registration. It is suggested that interested persons should consult an attorney who practices in this area to evaluate whether they qualify for expungement or limited access,” DeTulleo said.

As part of the informational campaign, Austin said that the state bar and participating county bar associations are distributing copies of an informational brochure. The brochure also is available on the association’s website at www.pabar.org and a copy of the brochure can be mailed upon request by contacting the PBA toll-free at 888-799-4557. 

Under an agreement with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, newspaper ads promoting the information campaign are running in more than 70 newspapers across the state.  In addition, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, a 30-second television spot and a 30-second radio spot will be airing statewide during the next two weeks.

It is the 13th in a series of statewide public education efforts conducted under the direction of the PBA Community and Public Relations Committee. Previous campaigns have addressed such issues as reporting child abuse, education rights of exceptional children, child support, wills and estates, identity theft and credit issues.

The informational campaign is funded by the PBA and a grant from the Pennsylvania Bar Insurance and Trust Fund. The campaign received informational support from the PBA Corrections System Committee, PBA Criminal Justice Section and PBA Legal Services to the Public Committee.

Joining Austin, DeTulleo and Lee at the news conference were PBA Community and Public Relations Committee Chair Lars H. Anderson of Kingston and Vice Chair Michelle Christian of Newtown. 

Local bar associations participating in the campaign include Adams County Bar Association, Beaver County Bar Association, Berks County Bar Association, Blair County Bar Association, Butler County Bar Association, Carbon County Bar Association, Centre County Bar Association, Chester County Bar Association, Clearfield County Bar Association, Columbia/Montour Bar Association, Cumberland County Bar Association, Dauphin County Bar Association, Delaware County Bar Association, Erie County Bar Association, Fayette County Bar Association, Franklin County Bar Association, Huntingdon County Bar Association, Lackawanna Bar Association, Lancaster Bar Association, Lawrence County Bar Association, Lebanon County Bar Association, Bar Association of Lehigh County, Lycoming Law Association, Mercer County Bar Association, Monroe County Bar Association, Montgomery Bar Association, Northampton County Bar Association, Philadelphia Bar Association, Venango County Bar Association, Washington County Bar Association, Wayne County Bar Association, Westmoreland Bar Association, Wilkes-Barre Law and Library Association and York County Bar Association.         
Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access to legal services; and serve the 27,000 lawyers who are members of the association.