Pennsylvania “Clean Slate” Law Leaves Some Questions Unanswered

Filed under: Criminal Law by Contributor @ August 16, 2018

On June 28, 2018, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the “Clean Slate” Bill into law. The “Clean Slate” law is intended to prevent arrests or convictions for minor crimes committed earlier in a person’s life from affecting opportunities for education, housing, and employment for years or even decades. Records sealed by the “Clean Slate” law will remain accessible to criminal justice agencies (police, prosecutors, courts) but are not to be visible to the public.

Under the “Clean Slate” law, records of any arrest or indictment that has not resulted in a conviction will automatically be sealed three years after the date of arrest where no proceedings seeking conviction remain. The law provides for automatic sealing of records of convictions of offenses that carry a statutory maximum penalty of two years or less if an offender has been free from arrest or prosecution for 10 years after the conviction, final release from confinement, or termination of supervision (whichever is latest) and has satisfied all court-ordered financial obligations. Conviction offenses subject to automatic sealing include Summary Offenses, Misdemeanor 3 (one year maximum), Misdemeanor 2 (two year maximum), and Ungraded Misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of two years or less. Note* Simple Assault is not subject to automatic sealing except where graded as an M3 Mutual Fight or Scuffle. Where these criteria are met, records will be automatically sealed without the offender having to file a petition.

While it is clear the spirit of the “Clean Slate” law is to give people who have made a mistake a second chance by sealing certain criminal records from public view, the law does not directly address some important questions. Among those questions is how the law will apply retroactively. It appears the law is retroactive, but how far back will it reach? 10 years? 100 years? Another critical question that needs to be considered is whether the law’s prescribed procedures will ensure a truly comprehensive sealing of records. For example, will county prisons seal records/mug shots of past inmates? Additionally, it remains to be seen how reliable the process for automatic sealing – done primarily by computers rather than the Court – will be.  Practically speaking, will the system work?

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