Living in a world where information can be found at the touch of a button, having a criminal record is more detrimental now than it ever has been. In years past when someone committed a crime and served their sentence they had a better opportunity to put their past behind them and try to start a new life on the right track. Now a criminal conviction is almost like receiving a life sentence as the arrest and conviction will follow someone well beyond the term of their sentence.
In Pennsylvania all arrest and convictions of misdemeanor and felony crimes and some summary convictions are recorded and maintained by the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository. Those convictions are then forwarded on to the FBI so that convictions in Pennsylvania will be known to potential employers or law enforcement in other states when they are doing a background check to determine a person’s criminal record.
Some people have the misconception that their Pennsylvania criminal conviction will automatically be expunged after after a certain period of time has elapsed. This may be true in some other states but not in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, a person is not eligible for an expungement of their criminal record on a misdemeanor or felony conviction unless they are 70 years old and have been crime free for the previous ten years or they have been deceased for three years. For the majority of people with criminal records, the need to erase their past indiscretion is immediate and they simply cannot afford to wait until they are 70 years old to start anew. For example, a person who commits a misdemeanor theft in Pennsylvania at the age of 18 would still have that criminal conviction hanging over them when they were 48 (30 years later), even if they had never committed another crime in their life and had been a model citizen. At the age of 48 they would still have to wait another 22 years before they would eligible to get their record cleared through the expungement process.
Up until 2008, even summary convictions in Pennsylvania could not be cleared through the expungement process. A person with a minor charge of retail theft (shoplifting) would be required to carry that conviction around with them and their only avenue to getting their record cleared would have been trough a Governor’s Pardon, which is a process that could take numerous years. That changed in 2008 when the Pennsylvania legislature decided to change the law to allow for expungement of summary convictions after five years had elapsed and the individual demonstrated that they had committed no further crimes in that time period.
Would people be in favor of an approach to criminal expungements for misdemeanors and felonies that was similar to that applied to summary convictions? What if the legislature allowed an expungement for misdemeanors after 10 years or for felonies after 15 or 20 years if a person has remained crime free during that time? Wouldn’t the general public be ok with someone having an opportunity to move on with their life free of restraint after paying their debt to society?
In this information age that we live in it is important to consider how a criminal record can effect a person long after their debt has been paid. People who have the hope of something better will be less likely to reoffend. Offering an opportunity for a cleared history to someone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony could provide that hope.