Over the past five years, 17 states have expanded their expungement laws to make them more liberal and create new opportunities for those with criminal records to start a new life. This national trend is creating an environment in which people with criminal records have more opportunities to gain employment and housing, in turn allowing them to become productive members of society. Pennsylvania is in the process of becoming the 18th state to liberalize its expungement law. Senate Bill No. 391 proposes an amendment to Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes that would eliminate certain outdated requirements for expungement for those citizens with minor criminal convictions on their records. If this bill is passed into law, it will allow individuals who have been convicted of 2nd and 3rd degree misdemeanors to apply for an expungement if they have not been arrested or convicted of a crime for the past 7 to 10 years respectively. The bill is sponsored by Senator Tim Solabay, D-Canonsburg. It was unanimously approved by a bipartisan Appropriations Committee, composed of 15 Republicans and 9 Democrats, on Monday, June 17,2013. It then came up for vote in the full Senate on October 16, 2013, where it was approved by a vote of 49-0. The Bill must now be approved by the House in order to become law.
If SB-391 is passed into law, it would benefit all Pennsylvanians, regardless of whether they have criminal records or not. For those with criminal records, the benefit is clear. Under the current law, they must wait until they are 70 years of age in order to apply to have the conviction expunged, regardless of the nature or seriousness of the conviction. Under the new law, any person who has a 2nd or 3rd degree misdemeanor on his or her record and has not been arrested for or convicted of a crime for 7 to 10 years would be eligible for an expungement. After the conviction is expunged, new employment and housing opportunities will open up. Increasingly, employers and landlords perform routine background checks on applicants, making it difficult for people with criminal records to find work or housing. A more liberal expungement law would allow people who fit the criteria to gain greater opportunities in housing and employment. This will benefit Pennsylvania as a whole by reducing unemployment and crime rates, in turn lowering the cost of welfare and correctional programs. Taxpayers would reap the benefits of this drop in costs since those who are unemployed are much more likely to commit a criminal offense. The rationale behind the law is that if people with criminal records are able to gain employment, they will be much less likely to become repeat offenders and thus save other Pennsylvanians the expense of having to support or incarcerate them.
There has been some pushback on SB-391 due to fears on the part of some that it will allow criminals to slip through the cracks. However, these fears stem from a misunderstanding of the bill’s intention, which is to give a second chance only to those people with 2nd and 3rd degree misdemeanors on their record who have become law-abiding members of society. The Bill would not create a new expungement right for those who have been convicted of violent crimes, sex offenses, or any other felony offenses. There is a general consensus in our society that serious offenses such as these should remain public information, and the passage of SB-391 would not allow for the expungement of these records under any circumstances. Furthermore, only individuals who have not re-offended for many years will be eligible for expungement under SB-391. In other words, the ability to clear one’s record will only be given to those citizens who have demonstrated that they have become law-abiding members of society.
People like W. Ringler of Pittsburgh are the intended beneficiaries of SB-391. Mr. Ringler wrote a letter to the editor of the Delco Times describing his situation. He has a low-level misdemeanor on his record from his young adulthood. He served his sentence and has remained free from arrest or conviction for 14 years. He has served his country as both a member of the Army National Guard and as a defense contractor for many years. However, due to recent layoffs, he lost his job and had a very difficult time finding new employment. Even after he gained employment, however, he feared for his job security due to his criminal record. The passage of SB-391 would allow Mr. Ringler to move on with his life and gain secure employment in the future. Mr. Ringler embodies the type of person this bill is meant to help.
If you are one of those Pennsylvanians with a 2nd or 3rd degree misdemeanor conviction on your record who is losing employment or housing opportunities, contact Attorney William Spade at 215-260-9590, for a free consultation to determine whether you can take advantage of the opportunities soon to be created by SB-391.
Posted on: January 31st, 2014 by William Spade