Misdemeanor Crimes Are Now Easier to Get Sealed in Pennsylvania

Ex-offenders who haven't been arrested for 7-10 years can petition to have their records sealed under a bipartisan bill Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law today.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf - criminal record sealing bill signing

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signs the bill expanding criminal record sealing today in Harrisburg. (Photo: Wolf’s Twitter)

Today, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that makes it easier for people to have their criminal records sealed in Pennsylvania. The law only applies to non-violent misdemeanors.

“Too many first-time and low-level offenders are serving their time and unable to improve their lives after leaving the system because they have a criminal record,” Wolf said in a statement. “And, they are too likely then to return to the system. We must do everything we can to break this cycle; it is robbing too many of their lives and it is costing taxpayers far too much.”

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 166 amends the criminal code to allow people who have served their time in prison and have not been arrested in the last seven to 10 years to petition the court to have non-violent misdemeanor convictions sealed.

The bill was introduced by Pa. Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican who represents parts of Bucks and Montgomery counties. The former prosecutor was once a tough-on-crime senator in the 1970s and 1980s, but has softened his approach after seeing the effects of some of those laws.

“A low-level misdemeanor in one’s past is often a barrier when seeking employment, long after they have completed their sentence,” Greenleaf said in a statement when the bill passed last month. “A number of states have expanded their expungement laws to reduce the period during which a minor criminal record can punish people. Getting people back to work is not only the right thing to do, but it also decreases the chances that they will commit another crime.”

Wolf’s office says 27 states, including New Jersey, have similar laws. The Pennsylvania law does not apply to first-degree misdemeanors or any felonies. It passed 48-0 in the Senate and 187-2 in the House. Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-Gilbertsville) and Rep. Dan Truitt (R-West Chester) voted against it.

“The United States is the world leader in incarceration and a criminal record often carries a lifetime of consequences that often lead to poverty or re-incarceration,” Wolf said. “This law is a commonsense, positive and unprecedented step to help Pennsylvanians with minor or dated criminal records have a fighting chance at opportunities for gainful employment.”

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