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Expungements, Pardons, and Sealed Records

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Once a person is arrested, a criminal record is created.  Many people assume that the record will automatically be destroyed if the charges are dismissed or reduced. Many people incorrectly assume that a juvenile record will automatically be removed.  In Pennsylvania, the only way a criminal record can be completely cleaned is through expungement.

With an expungement, most summary convictions can be removed from your criminal record after five years.  It is important to note that many misdemeanor or felony convictions cannot be expunged. The only way to have non-expungeable misdemeanors or felonies removed is through a governor’s pardon. After a governor’s pardon has been granted, you can file for an expungement.

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<em>Pennsylvania law provides different options to clear criminal records | Photo by Pixabay<em>

Pennsylvania’s Clean-Slate Record Sealing Law

On November 14, 2016, Pennsylvania created a way for certain individuals to get their criminal records sealed from public view. As of December 2018, more offenses are now eligible to be sealed. If you have been convicted of certain misdemeanors and 10 years have passed since you finished your sentence, you may be able to get your record sealed. Although a sealed record is not the same as getting an expungement, it helps people with prior convictions get a clean start for employment and housing purposes.

The 2018 Clean Slate Law has also made provisions to have records for some arrests that did not result in a conviction automatically sealed without having to file a petition. If you’ve been granted a governor’s pardon, your record will be automatically sealed.

If you would like to know if you are eligible to have an expungeable offense removed from your criminal record or to see if you are eligible to have your record sealed, fill out the form below for an Expungement and Clean Slate evaluation.

Clemency in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, those who have been convicted of crimes can apply for clemency. As part of the clemency process, the consequences of the conviction are removed or modified.


When the governor approves a pardon application, it is like the conviction never happened. Someone who receives a pardon has the conviction removed from their record and they are relieved of all of the consequences of the conviction.

The Pardon Process

  1. Request and complete the pardon application.
  2. The pardon application is circulated to members of the Board of Pardons.
  3. A hearing, if granted, is held to give the applicant an opportunity to make their case for a pardon.
  4. The board votes on the pardon application.
  5. If the majority of the board votes in favor of granting the pardon, the application is sent to the governor for them to decide whether to grant or deny the pardon.
  6. If the pardon is granted, the person receiving the pardon can file for expungement.
  7. If the pardon is denied, the applicant can apply for reconsideration.


In certain cases, a clemency applicant can ask to have their sentence commuted. Instead of receiving a pardon and being treated like the conviction never happened, a commutation changes the sentence that the applicant received. If a person is serving a sentence of life in prison or was sentenced to the death penalty, they can apply to the Board of Pardons to have the sentence changed.

Pennsylvania has set up a new, expedited clemency review process for people who have been convicted of non-violent marijuana convictions. People are eligible if they were convicted of:

Frequently Asked Questions about Expungements, Record-Sealing, and Clemency in Pennsylvania

Is anything ever automatically expunged?

In some counties, ARD cases are automatically expunged. If you are acquitted, your record will also be automatically expunged.

Is there a difference between a case being expunged and sealed?

Yes. When a record is expunged, that means that the record of the case is essentially destroyed. When a record is sealed, that means that access to the record is restricted.

If charges against me were dropped, will the charges be expunged?

Generally not. Under the current interpretation of the law, only an acquittal will result in an expungement. Everything else is just restricted.

If it’s been 10 years since my summary offense conviction, will there be an automatic expungement?

Generally not. The record will be sealed after 10 years, but it will still exist.

How long does the pardon process take?

According to the Board of Pardons, applications can take 18 to 24 months to process.

Do I have to pay my fines, costs, and restitution before applying for a pardon?

You don’t have to pay the fines, costs, and restitution in your case to qualify for a pardon, but it makes it very difficult to succeed in an already challenging process if you don’t pay the expenses before you apply for clemency.