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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: March 11, 2016 01:14 PM
From: Senator Scott Wagner and Sen. Anthony H. Williams
To: All Senate members
Subject: Sealing: Clean Slate for Minor Criminal Records
Act 5 of 2016, which passed the Senate 49-0, provides for a process of sealing low level, non-violent misdemeanors. In the near future, we will be introducing legislation to enable additional Pennsylvanians – those with low-level, nonviolent criminal records – to earn a clean slate upon rehabilitation. This legislation will implement automatic sealing of records, rather than having to file individual petitions.

Nearly three million Pennsylvanians, or 37.5% of the Commonwealth’s working-age citizens, are estimated to have criminal records. Many have only minor records, such as misdemeanors or summary offenses; others have only arrests without conviction. But having even a minor criminal record carries lifelong barriers that can block successful re-entry and participation in society.

The lifelong consequences of having a criminal record stand in stark contrast to research on “redemption,” documenting that once an individual with a prior nonviolent conviction has stayed crime free for three to four years, that person’s risk of recidivism is no different from the risk of arrest for the general population.

In the private sector, even minor criminal offenses prevent many small businesses from hiring job applicants because of fear of liability. For those able to get hired, it inhibits good employees from promotion and creates an arbitrary “glass ceiling.” Greater employment of people with low-level, non-violent criminal records would raise revenues and reduce costs for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.

Our legislation proposes the following structure for sealing records:
  • Nonviolent Misdemeanors – sealing would occur after an individual has remained crime-free for 10 years
  • Summary Offenses – sealing would occur after five years
  • Non-conviction Records – 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. And unlike with expungement, sealing means that law enforcement would retain access to the record.

This is supported by the bipartisan U.S. Justice Action Network, comprising members as diverse as: Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for American Progress, FreedomWorks, the ACLU, Right on Crime, and the Faith & Freedom Coalition. We believe this legislation will also will enjoy bipartisan support in the General Assembly.

Previous co-sponsors of SB 166, Act 5, are: Baker, Boscola, Brewster, Costa, Fontana, Greenleaf, Hughes, Kitchen, Leach, Rafferty, Schwank, Tartaglione, Vogel, White, Wiley, and Williams.

If you have any questions regarding this proposal, please contact Erin K. Marsicano, 717-787-3817, emarsicano@pasen.gov or Kyle Miller, 717-787-5970, kmiller@pasenate.com.

Introduced as SB1197