An expungement is a legal order to have criminal history record information destroyed and removed from public view. An expungement can be for an entire arrest, or for individual charges from an arrest. In Pennsylvania, all arrests are publicly available on-line, however, primarily only arrests that did not lead to a conviction are eligible for an expungement. For a more detailed overview of understanding criminal records and expungement eligibility in Pennsylvania click here.
To have a charge expunged, one must file an expungement petition in the county where the arrest occurred. For example, if you are a resident of Montgomery County, but you were arrested in Butler County then your expungement petition must be filed in Butler County. A separate petition must be filed for each arrest with eligible charges you are seeking to expunge. The cost to file an expungement petition varies by County. Always contact the County Clerk of Courts to confirm the filing fee before you file your expungement petition(s). PLSE compiled a chart containing all 67 County court house contact information in Pennsylvania.
The County Clerk of Courts should also provide information concerning how many copies of a petition you need, what parties receive copies of the petition, and other logistical questions for filing an expungement petition. Click to expand our map of filings costs by County.
Once filed, the county district attorney’s office, by statute, has the right to challenge the expungement petition and request a hearing before a judge to determine if your request to expunge should be granted or denied. Just because an arrest is eligible for expungement, does not mean it will be granted. For blank expungement forms to file your own expungement petition, please visit the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts website here.
During a contested expungement hearing, the judge will conduct a balancing test, known as the Wexler Balancing test, weighing the right of the petitioner to be free from the harm of keeping the arrest record versus the Commonwealth’s interest in preserving the record. It is the Commonwealth’s burden to justify why the record should not be expunged, but the petitioner may be asked to testify or present evidence to support their expungement petition.
The judge may consider factors such as the strength of the Commonwealth’s case against the petitioner; the reasons the Commonwealth gives for wishing to retain the records; petitioner’s age, criminal record, and employment history; the length of time that has elapsed between the arrest and petition; and the adverse consequences to the petitioner if the expungement is not granted. Pennsylvania courts have long recognized the harm an arrest record can cause an individual, however, it is important that the petitioner be as specific as possible when arguing for their expungement. Copies of recent job denials, certificates of rehabilitation, certificates of occupational or behavioral training, and letters of support can all be introduced to support an expungement petition.
If an expungement petition is granted, the court will provide you, or the attorney who filed the petition, with a copy of the signed expungement order for your records. In addition, the court sends a copy to state police and other criminal justice agencies who process the order to remove the information. The destruction of criminal history record information occurs when these criminal justice agencies comply with the expungement order. These agencies send letters to the petitioner or the attorney who filed the petition confirming that they have removed the information thereby completing the expungement process.
PLSE, in conjunction with our partner organizations, host intake clinics throughout the Philadelphia areas most greatly impacted by arrests. At these clinics, our volunteers will review your criminal history record information and can advise whether any of your charges or convictions are eligible for expungement. If you are eligible for expungement, and qualify for PLSE’s free legal services, PLSE may be able to represent you in your expungement proceeding. You must attend a clinic to receive legal services. PLSE does not accept walk-ins.
Keep up with our Clinic calendar, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to find out when and where our next clinic will be. If you wish to request a clinic for your community or organization, please email us.