Navigating Expungement and Pardons for Drug Offenses in Pennsylvania

Navigating Expungement and Pardons for Drug Offenses in Pennsylvania

Some situations put us between a rock and a hard place, like when you are convicted of a drug offense in Pennsylvania. However, a criminal conviction should not mean your life is over. Understanding the difference between expungement and pardons can help you navigate the system and regain control of your future.

If you or someone you know has a Pennsylvania drug conviction on their record, you might wonder if there’s a way to clear that mark. The good news is that Pennsylvania offers options for individuals seeking to remove drug-related convictions from their criminal records.

Can you get a felony drug charge expunged? We’ll answer that question in this comprehensive guide. We’ll also explore the process of expungement and pardons for drug offenses in Pennsylvania, including special cases and expedited pardons for marijuana offenses.

Understanding Expungement and Pardon

The process of expungement and pardon can be complex and confusing, especially when dealing with Pennsylvania drug convictions. It’s crucial to grasp certain key concepts to navigate this legal landscape effectively.


Expungement is the legal procedure for erasing, or removing certain criminal records from official records and public view as if they had never existed. In Pennsylvania, the process clarifies specific types of criminal convictions from your record, giving you a fresh start.


Expungement is essentially a legal, record-clearing option for qualified individuals. Those with eligible convictions, such as summary offenses, certain misdemeanor diversions, and cases where charges were dropped or withdrawn, may be able to expunge their records. Those with ineligible convictions, such as misdemeanor or felony convictions will not be eligible for expungement without obtaining a pardon first.

An expungement is a Court Order issued by a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the conviction was, Ordering the State Police to clear the record from the official criminal database.

The expungement process is relatively quick, typically lasting three to six months after you submit your application in the county of conviction. Once the process is complete, individuals can start living with a clean record and enjoy opportunities previously denied due to a criminal record.


While an expungement is what erases past criminal records, a pardon does not erase – it grants permission to file an expungement to an individual for their summary, misdemeanor, or felony conviction.

Only the Governor can grant a pardon and remove all legal consequences that stem from the initial misdemeanor or felony conviction, including restrictions on employment or voting rights.

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons is responsible for processing pardon applications. The board members review pardon petitions, voting if they believe the individual is a good candidate for a pardon. They also vote if a public hearing is necessary when the candidate can be interviewed by the Board.

If they recommend the pardon, they will forward your petition to the Governor, who has the final decision-making authority. If you receive a pardon, the conviction in question will remain on your record, but it will no longer have legal consequences or impact your life.

If the Board does not recommend your pardon, you may apply for reconsideration. You may also reapply after a certain amount of time if your circumstances have changed to reflect a stronger case for clemency. They can also hold your application under advisement, giving the Board more time to consider your case.

The pardon process usually takes roughly two years to complete. However, depending on the Governor’s schedule and additional application requirements, it can take longer. Expediting the process is often tricky but possible in some cases, such as for marijuana offenses.

Special Cases: ARD, Section 17, Probation Without Verdict

When it comes to Pennsylvania drug convictions, certain exceptional cases merit closer examination due to their potential impact on eligibility for expungement. These cases involve unique dispositions and outcomes that can significantly affect the expungement process. Let’s explore these special cases in detail.

ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition)

ARD is a diversionary program designed to provide individuals charged with specific offenses, including drug-related crimes, with an alternative to traditional criminal prosecution.

The primary goals of ARD are rehabilitation and the prevention of future criminal behavior. Participants in the ARD program are typically required to complete a probationary period, during which they must meet certain conditions, such as drug testing, community service, and counseling.

Successful completion of the ARD program may result in the dismissal of the charges associated with your case. Those who completed the ARD may be eligible for expungement without the need for a pardon.

Section 17 (Probation Without Verdict)

Probation Without Verdict (PWV) is Section 17 (§ 780-117) of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act. This section of Pennsylvania law states that any individual charged with a non-violent drug-related offense for the first time may be put on probation without the requirement of a verdict.

The offender must present evidence of drug dependency from a physician and plead guilty to the charges. If approved, they must serve probation for a specific period. Similar to the ARD program, successful completion of the PWV program may result in dismissal of charges.

However, not all drug-related charges are eligible for PWV. The program is designed to help first-time, drug-dependent offenders receive treatment for their addiction and avoid future criminal behavior. Those with previous convictions or who participated in the ARD program are typically not eligible for PWV.

Understanding these special cases is vital because they can significantly impact your eligibility for expungement. If your drug-related conviction falls within the parameters of ARD and Section 17 or Probation Without Verdict, you may have a more straightforward path to expungement. However, if your case does not align with these special cases and is considered a felony offense, you may need to pursue a pardon before proceeding with the expungement process.

Expedited Pardons for Marijuana Offenses

There has been a notable shift in how Pennsylvania handles marijuana-related offenses in recent years. Through the Board of Pardons, the state introduced an expedited pardon process for specific marijuana-related convictions in September 2019.

The expedited pardon process is designed to fast-track certain marijuana-related convictions for pardon consideration. It primarily focuses on non-violent marijuana misdemeanors, including possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. The goal is to streamline the review and approval of these cases.

The expedited pardon process is particularly relevant in light of evolving attitudes toward marijuana. As laws surrounding marijuana use change, Pennsylvania recognizes the need to address past convictions that may no longer align with current societal views.

Remembering that this process doesn’t automatically guarantee a pardon is essential. The Board of Pardons will carefully review each case to determine eligibility. If your application qualifies for expedited review, it could significantly shorten the overall pardon process timeline.

As of August 23, 2022, the Board of Pardons has received 741 applications where they reviewed 427 cases and allowed 408 public hearings. They recommended 373 applicants for the Governor’s action, of which the Governor put two applications on hold, denied one, and granted 326 pardons. As of the most recent data published, 22 applications are still pending.

The state also introduced the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project. This program allowed those with certain minor, non-violent marijuana convictions to apply for pardons from September 1 to 30, 2022. The program was a one-time initiative and is no longer available.

While Pennsylvania has taken steps to address past marijuana convictions, certain types of cases are not eligible for these expedited processes. When considering a pardon application, it’s important to remember that the Board of Pardons will closely review each case on its merits.

The outcome of your application may depend on factors such as the severity of your offense and your behavior since then. It’s always best to be honest and forthright with the Board when submitting your application.

Explore Expungement in Pennsylvania With Record Eraser

To navigate expungement and pardons for drug offenses in Pennsylvania, you must understand the nature of your conviction. You should also explore special cases, such as the ARD and Section 17 (Probation Without Verdict) programs, and be aware of the expedited pardon process for marijuana-related offenses. Remember that eligibility for expungement largely depends on the type of your conviction and whether it falls under specific categories.

If you’re unsure about your eligibility or how to proceed, it’s crucial to consult with legal experts who specialize in record clearance and expungement. They can help you assess your situation and guide you through the necessary steps.

At Record Eraser Pennsylvania, we understand the complexities of expungement and pardons in the state. Our goal is to assist individuals in clearing their criminal records, providing them with a fresh start. If you’re ready to explore the possibility of expunging your Pennsylvania drug conviction or seeking a pardon, we encourage you to try our Research My Record tool. Simply provide your information, and we’ll help you determine the best course of action for your unique situation.

Don’t let a past drug-related conviction hold you back from opportunities and a brighter future. Take the first step toward a clean slate today with Record Eraser Pennsylvania. Contact us today to share your story and learn more about record clearance in Pennsylvania.

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