In Commonwealth v. Wallace, 2014 WL 3579692 (7/21/14), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court limited the availability of expungements. An inmate with 12 arrests between 1988 and 1992, numerous other arrests, and a 14 page criminal record with a total of 228 charges, sought an expungement for approximately 150 of these charges. The expungement petitions were denied, with the trial court reasoning that the records should be kept because of Wallace’s current incarceration; Wallace would not gain much by having things expunged because his record would still be so long, and the courts may find the information useful if he was to commit another offense while in prison or while on parole.
On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that inmates in Pennsylvania do not have a due process right to expungements while they are still incarcerated. They reiterated, however, that it is still a due process right for non-inmates to be able to submit an expungement petition. While the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that an expungement should not be granted to Wallace, it seemed to rely heavily on the unique facts of the case. The Court recognized that not only was Wallace currently incarcerated, his extremely long record meant that he had, as a practical matter, not much to gain. The Court did say that part of the reason for holding that there is not a due process right for inmates to seek expungements is they are frequently incercerated in different states; Wallace, for example, is currently incarcerated in New York, and it would be a burden on prison resources to transport him to Pennsylvania for an expungement hearing.
Ultimately, while this ruling does limit the availability of expungements in Pennsylvania, it is a very limited holding. Anyone who is currently incarcerated and considering applying for expungement might consider waiting until release to do so. If you or anyone you know is interested in expunging your criminal record, please contact an attorney at Fairlie & Lippy.