For many ex-offenders, finding quality jobs and housing opportunities is a challenge. Since they have a tarnished criminal and employment history, potential employers and landlords often overlook these individuals. This discrimination has resulted in a vicious cycle of unemployment, poverty, and even recidivism.
The Pennsylvania court made a significant move that granted these individuals access to employment opportunities and a chance to start over. The PA Clean Slate 3.0 automatically seals minor and low-level criminal records after a period of time, allowing individuals to have a clean slate and move on with their lives.
The PA Clean Slate 3.0 gained massive support from different political parties. This immense bipartisan support paved the way for it to be enacted in December 2023.
How HB 689 Expands Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Law
Since 2018, Pennsylvania has been setting the standard for criminal justice reform with its groundbreaking PA Clean Slate Law. This legislation allows for the automatic sealing of specific misdemeanor and low-level offenses from public records after 10 years of clean background, giving individuals with a criminal record the opportunity for a fresh start.
After the success of the initial Clean Slate law, which sealed over 30 million cases in Pennsylvania, legislators recognized the need to expand the scope of the initial legislation. The recently approved expansion, HB 689, seals the record of property and drug-related minor offenses if the individual hasn’t had a felony or misdemeanor conviction for the past 10 years.
Another critical adjustment made with Clean Slate 3.0 is the reduction in wait time for sealing criminal history record information. Individuals with a misdemeanor criminal conviction only need to wait seven years, while those with summary convictions have five years to wait.
Who Qualifies? Eligibility Criteria Under Clean Slate 3.0
As stated in the section above, individuals who have not committed a felony or misdemeanor in the past 10 years are eligible for record sealing under HB 689. However, there are specific criteria that must be met to qualify for sealing less serious drug and property-related offenses.
For those with less serious drug felony offenses, sealing the arrest record and other criminal charges will apply automatically if the individual has a clean record for the past 10 years. These drug offenses include possession of a controlled substance and intent to distribute small amounts of marijuana. However, individuals with convictions for violent crimes or significant drug offenses are not eligible under Clean Slate 3.0.
For property-related felonies, such as theft and burglary, the individual must have completed their sentence and paid all fines and restitution before their record is eligible for sealing. Additionally, the individual must file a court petition for record clearing.
It’s worth reiterating that misdemeanor offenses now only have a seven-year waiting period, so individuals may become eligible sooner than they would have under the earlier Clean Slate legislation.
Clean Slate 3.0 Exclusions and Exceptions
The Clean Slate 3.0 is limited to minor drug offenses and property-related felonies. This limitation means that individuals with more severe crimes, such as trafficking or violent crimes, will not be eligible for record sealing under this legislation.
The new expansion also excludes certain types of drug felonies from automatic record clearing if they carry specific sentencing conditions. These include offenses involving firearms, driving under the influence, and sexual crimes. The Pennsylvania court implemented this rule to ensure public safety and prevent the sealing of records for individuals who pose a potential threat.
Speaking with a qualified and experienced pardon attorney is the best way to understand your eligibility for Clean Slate 3.0 and navigate any potential exceptions or exclusions. They can also help you when filing a petition for record clearing and ensuring that you meet all necessary criteria.
Bipartisan Support Behind Clean Slate 3.0
While Hon. Jordan A. Harris, a Democrat, was the primary sponsor behind the PA Clean Slate 3.0, the legislation had strong bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly. In a shocking turn of events, the Clean Slate 3.0 was signed into law after an overwhelming 189-14 vote in the Pennsylvania House last June 5, 2023.
Some essential figures rallying behind the legislation include Rep. Sheryl M. Delozier, a Republican who led the bill through the House Judiciary Committee and was instrumental in its successful passage. As with previous Clean Slate bills, this expansion also had support from many organizations, including Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and the Center for American Progress.
In a survey conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research on April 24, 2023, 82% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans, and 80% of independent voters expressed support for HB 689. The endorsement of the bill from both sides of the political aisle and a broad base of voters showcases Pennsylvania’s commitment to criminal justice reform.
Organizations Rally Behind Clean Slate Expansion
A diverse collection of local businesses, legal organizations, labor associations, and advocacy groups have come forward to support the Clean Slate 3.0 expansion. These include the following groups:
- ABC Keystone (Associated Builders and Contractors)
- ACLU of Pennsylvania
- Americans for Prosperity – Pennsylvania
- American for Tax Reform
- Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania
- REFORM Alliance
- The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber
- The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry
- Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association
- Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance
- Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association
This wide range of support for the Clean Slate 3.0 expansion is a testament to its potential impact on individuals with criminal records, their families, and communities. Pennsylvania is leading the way in criminal justice reform by providing second chances and opportunities for rehabilitation and setting an example for other states to follow.
Automatic Sealing: Implementation and Filing Process
The process of automatic sealing starts with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. The administrative office will run a query to find potential records that meet the eligibility criteria outlined in Clean Slate 3.0. Once identified, the office will send these records to the Pennsylvania State Police for validation.
The State Police will cross-reference each record with their database to ensure accuracy and completeness. If there are no discrepancies, the record will automatically be sealed without requiring further action from the individual or their legal representative.
If you’re unsure if you have an eligible record for automatic sealing, you can always check Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System (UJS) website. The UJS portal provides public access to court records and allows individuals to confirm the status of their case.
Sealed Records can and should be Pardoned
Pardons are still required for Misdemeanor and Felony convictions that are not sealed. Even when sealed, the convictions can still be disclosed in a background check and can still limit gun rights and carry permits. Basically, sealing helps to hide the charge, but it is not erased or expunged. A Pardon from the Governor is still the only and best way to remove misdemeanor or felony convictions.
As shared by Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, an influential figure in the fight for the approval of the Clean Slate Law and Chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, “A pardon demonstrates that someone has done the work and earned that second chance.”
The Clean Slate Law doesn’t solely serve as a testament to second chances but rather the act of actively working on improving oneself, positively impacting the community, and earning your shot for another chance.
But the fight for fairer and more inclusive policies doesn’t end with Clean Slate 3.0. There is still much work to do to address underlying systemic issues and inequalities affecting individuals with criminal records.
If you have a felony or misdemeanor conviction or summary offense and require legal assistance, our Pennsylvania pardon attorney can help you determine your eligibility and help you with the process. Contact us now and tell us your story. Let’s work toward your fresh start.