Pennsylvania recently began automatically sealing certain criminal records from public view.
Act 56 of 2018, called the Clean Slate Law, seeks to alleviate hardships that can come as a result of having a criminal record; a criminal record is often an impediment to finding housing and employment, which makes rehabilitation difficult.
It’s a common misconception that a “criminal record” only exists if one has spent time in jail or is found guilty of committing a crime. In fact, any involvement with the criminal justice system creates a record that is then searchable by the public, potential employers and landlords. Arrests, charges that do not result in conviction and summary offenses all create a criminal record that follows an individual around for life.
One’s complete criminal record will still be accessible by law enforcement and court personnel, but generally speaking, access to criminal records will be limited if charges were dropped, if the individual was found not guilty or if 10 years have passed since the entry of a summary or minor misdemeanor without a new conviction. Other records are eligible for limited access protection by petition to the court.
What this means is that, once an individual’s record has been “wiped clean,” that person may respond to questions from employers and landlords as though the offense had never occurred. A person cannot be required to disclose the information, nor will it be searchable. If a background check on a potential tenant reveals a criminal history, keep in mind that the guidance issued by HUD in 2016 is still valid. A criminal history is one factor among many to consider when evaluating potential tenants but should not serve as an immediate disqualifier.