Proposal Would Automatically Seal Minor Criminal Records

The aim? "Greater employment of people with low-level, non-violent criminal records."

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf - criminal record sealing bill signing

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

Hot on the heels of a new state law that makes it easier to seal old, minor criminal records — as well as new Philly rules expanding “ban the box” legislation — comes a new proposal aimed at making it easier yet for people with criminal convictions to find employment.

The proposal — floated last week by Sen. Scott Wagner, a York County Republican, and Sen. Anthony Williams, a Philly Democrat — would automatically seal low-level criminal records. The law last month requires such folks to go to court and petition to have the record sealed; the new proposal would remove even that hurdle to removing such records from public view.

Wagner and Williams’ proposal would seal the following records automatically:

• Nonviolent misdemeanors — the seal would apply automatically after an individual has remained crime-free for 10 years.

• Summary offenses — basically, non-traffic citations like disorderly conduct, harassment, and low-level retail theft — would be sealed after five crime-free years.

• Records in cases that didn’t end in conviction “would be sealed as a matter of course, given that the presumption of innocence is one of the bedrocks of the American criminal justice system.”

“Sealing of qualifying records would occur without the need to petition the court, relieving our overtaxed courts of a burdensome workload,” Wagner and Williams wrote. “And unlike with expungement, sealing means that law enforcement would retain access to the record.”

They said more than a third of Pennsylvanians have criminal convictions — most belonging to the low-level variety they seek to seal.

“In the private sector, even minor criminal offenses prevent many small businesses from hiring job applicants because of fear of liability,” they wrote. “Greater employment of people with low-level, non-violent criminal records would raise revenues and reduce costs for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.”