For someone who’s been arrested, expungement means clearing his or her record, thus knocking down barriers to finding employment or housing — even getting a line of credit or travelling abroad.
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania lawmakers approved broadening the state’s expungement law, making it easier for former offenders to move on with their lives.
“The problem with a criminal record is that it affects almost every aspect of your life,” said state Sen. Daylin Leach.
He, along with Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis, and Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania will hold a clinic Thursday in Norristown to help shed light on expungement and other record-clearing processes such as a pardon.
Other clinics are set throughout Philadelphia on Nov. 12.
“For example, if you apply for a job, it’s still legal in Pennsylvania to have a box to check,” Leach said. “If you check that box, often the inquiry ends in terms of giving you the job. In some places, it’s mandated … for example with working in public schools or working in hospitals and a number of other jobs that you can’t hold if you have a criminal record.”
There are different ways to clear a criminal record. A court can grant expungement if an individual has 10 years without a conviction, criminal charges or probation for misdemeanors and summary offenses.
“That covers an awful lot of people and an awful lot of crimes,” Leach said. “That includes public urination or possession of a small amount of marijuana or some fight you got into 15 years ago.”
A pardon, on the other hand, can be granted for any reason; it completely wipes the offense off the record.
The old rules limited expungement to those 70 or older. The new law also allows individuals to have their records sealed to make it easier to apply for a job or a student loan.
The process, however, is a long and arduous one.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t solved every problem,” said Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat. “If you have a conviction, and prior to an expungement or pardon being granted, that conviction still remains on your record, you still suffer the consequences of it.
“So one of the things we hope to do over time is to reduce the time it takes to get these remedies,” he added.