The Pennsylvania Senate passed the “Clean Slate” bill, which would automatically seal nonviolent misdemeanor convictions of individuals who have not been convicted of a crime in the last ten years.
Pennsylvanians with misdemeanor convictions must currently petition the court to seal old convictions, but the Commonwealth’s new Clean Slate law could seal their criminal records automatically. Under the legislation, which was crafted in part to help individuals with minor convictions obtain employment, nonviolent misdemeanor convictions will be sealed automatically where the offender has been crime-free for ten years.
The digitization of criminal records has made it easier for companies to conduct background checks on potential employees, increasing the likelihood that an applicant’s criminal record could impact their chances of getting the job. While this technology may be a good thing in the case of violent crimes and felonies, the increased use of background checks that reveal even the most benign criminal offenses may also eliminate job opportunities for individuals with old and minor convictions who would otherwise be qualified contenders. Though many misdemeanor convictions can be sealed under the current law, most eligible candidates do not petition the court to seal their records, leaving them accessible to the public’s—and potential employer’s—view.
The Clean Slate law will remedy this problem by taking advantage of Pennsylvania’s centralized electronic record system to identify eligible convictions and cross-reference them against court records in each of the Commonwealth’s judicial districts. Convictions that meet the law’s criteria will automatically be sealed. The law would also save taxpayer time and money, as court employees will no longer have to personally review records and respond to petitions on a case-by-case basis.
For the Record
The Clean Slate bill’s sponsors include both Republicans and Democrats, and it is supported by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the Pennsylvania State Police. Republican Senator Scott Wagner, the prime co-sponsor of the legislation, wrote that while the bill may be perceived as “risky” by some people, if it becomes a law, “it has the potential to change the lives of hardworking people who are trying to provide for their families and create a better life for their children.”
This legislation represents a desire to reform our criminal justice system so that nonviolent offenders who have overcome their criminal problems are not held back by their past mistakes. By sealing eligible convictions automatically, Pennsylvania takes the burden off of individuals who may not have the time, money, or legal know-how to petition the court themselves.
What Happens Next
The bill was passed by the Pennsylvania Senate and sent to the House on June 29, 2017, where it is currently being considered by the Judiciary Committee.