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?

Please let us know what you think in the comments below.


  1. Chris swogger says:

    Does this include drug charges

  2. Mark says:

    I just don’t see how much effect this will have. This is about misdemeanor crimes. I’d say that where a person is hurt the worst is right after it happens and within the first few years.
    Good luck getting a job and housing if on probation. After 5-7 years a misdemeanor shouldn’t be a big problem for a normal job application or for housing. Now a law a sealing stuff after more than 10 yrs, so what? I don’t see the gain of this.
    I was jailed for 6 months and did months of parole and 1 yr of probation after taking a plea of simple assualt for domestic violence that happened in 2010.
    Girlfriend, who I’m still with, didn’t even want to press the charges. I was arrested on felony aggravated assualt charges that were pled down to simple assualt.
    I work as an electrician and occasionally do work in nuclear power plants and need to maintain unescorted access to nuclear power plants. I currently maintain a clearance for nuclear power plants and even a crime of this magnitude didn’t prevent me from being employed in that field. Few people through the construction are able to get such clearance for work. I travel for work and have worked in other states and many nuclear power plants across the nation.
    Having said all of this, I don’t see the importance of all this new legislation.
    More legislation needs to be put in place to pressure employers to hire qualified candidates and not deny employment because of criminal record.
    This new law needs to be expanded to minor drug crimes. There are so many people who have felony drug offenses for possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use. Not selling drugs, no intent to deliver. People got busted 15 yrs ago for weed or cocaine and slapped with a felony and are scewed in life.

  3. We’ve seen all sorts of bad things happen to someone because of a criminal record well after ten years, so it’s always a good idea to seal or expunge if you can. Further, the process takes a long time so you can’t wait until the problem arises to address it.

  4. The law covers most minor drug misdemeanors. It does not cover those with 3 year maximums and it does not cover drug felonies.

  5. rich says:

    I have a drug paraphernalia convictiin on my record from back in 2004.i went through everything they wanted ne to completed everything that was asked.and havent been in trouble the conviction carried a 1yr probation sentence which was was completed tge charges was a ungraded missdermeanor,but kept me from obtainning a conceal and carry question here is with this new law will i be able to obtain a conceal and carry now

  6. This is an excellent question and one that many people don’t think to ask. They just assume that sealing or expungement will fix the problem. Unfortunately, the federal government does not recognize state level expungements or sealing for purposes of firearms laws. So even if you get an offense expunged or sealed, the federal laws which prohibit possession of a firearm will likely continue to do so. There is some disagreement in this area, but there is a federal opinion supporting the proposition that a state level expungement does not fix things. Of course, practically, the expungement may work and result in granting of the carry permit or sale of the firearm. But the gun owner is taking a big risk that if anything ever goes wrong the government will treat him as someone who should not have possessed firearms. There is recent precedent for obtaining a federal expungement for the purpose of restoring firearms rights, but this is a very expensive proposition as it’s only been done a few times. It is not worth it to the average person (I know one person paid $50,000 to pursue a federal expungement). Keep an eye out for new developments as this area of law may change in the future, possibly changing this answer…

  7. Rob says:

    Whats the difference between Senate Bill 391 and Clean Slate that was just passed?

  8. Senate Bill 391 was passed a few years back and provided for sealing of some misdemeanor 2 or misdemeanor 3 convictions. Clean Slate broadens the offenses included and sets up an automated process (the effectiveness of which has yet to be demonstrated – our skepticism comes from prior “automated” systems that did not work) to seal or expunge certain records.

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