As anyone with a criminal record knows, a conviction in the past does not stay in the past. It can follow you around for years. Whether you are applying for a job, a bank loan or a home to rent, it comes back. Any time you must disclose your record or be subject to a criminal background check, your past can catch up to you and negatively affect your current life. The fact that your arrest or conviction happened a long time ago and that you have changed a lot since then may not make any difference.
Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, you may have the chance to put the past behind you by either sealing your criminal record or expunging it.
Changes to the law that help people with criminal records
In recent years, Pennsylvania lawmakers have made it easier to seal your criminal record from public access. Today, convictions for most crimes, including several felonies, are eligible for sealing. To be eligible, your conviction must have occurred at least 10 years ago. Since then, you must not have been convicted of any other crime with a potential prison sentence of at least one year.
The difference between expungement and a sealed record
Keep in mind that expungement and sealing are not the same things. Sealing a criminal conviction means that employers, banks and other parties cannot access it or require you to disclose it using ordinary means. However, your record still exists. Someone could ask a judge for a court order to unseal your record.
An expungement actually erases an arrest or conviction from your record — on paper, at least, it is as if it never happened. Pennsylvania allows the expungement of summary offenses after a certain number of years without further trouble with the law. Expungement is also possible for people aged 70 or older who have not been arrested for at least ten years after their final release from confinement or supervision.
As you can see, expungement is allowed in fewer situations than sealing your criminal record. But it may still be possible for you to stop your past from haunting you.