Nonviolent misdemeanors may be sealed under new law
February 16, 2016 11:54 PM
Chris Knight/Associated Press
Gov. Tom Wolf, center, delivers his budget address for the 2016-17 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate last week.
By Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Being convicted in Pennsylvania of a nonviolent second- or third-degree misdemeanor no longer necessarily means a lifetime of regret because it’s an impediment to employment, housing, education and more.
A bipartisan bill that would eliminate the ill effects of a solo blemish on an otherwise clean criminal record was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Tom Wolf in Harrisburg as representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association looked on in support.
The legislation, formerly known as Senate Bill 166, will allow individuals who have served a sentence for nonviolent second- or third-degree misdemeanors to petition the court to seal that criminal record from public view after at least seven years without a new offense. Even if sealed, criminal justice and government agencies would still be able to see a person’s entire criminal record.
“This gives a second chance to people with truly minor criminal records,” Mr. Wolf said before signing the bill in the Governor’s Reception Room in a ceremony that was live-streamed on the Internet. “This is clearly good for the individual when their record is sealed, it is good for their families and it is good for companies [who are potential employers].”
State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, who sponsored the legislation, noted that a federal study showed that there are 550 obstacles in life if you are convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania.
“This affects education funding, loans, housing, jobs,” Mr. Greenleaf said. “This is all about getting people reintegrated into society.”
He said Pennsylvania will benefit because the bill will counter high rates of recidivism, will relieve an overburdened pardon system, and will provide ex-offenders a chance to join the workforce and be productive citizens.
“This is not just the right thing to do, it makes fiscal sense,” agreed state Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, who championed the bill in the House.
“This is a jobs bill. It will not give people a handout but will allow them to put their hand in society.”
He said he sees the bipartisan legislation as the beginning of criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania.
Second-degree misdemeanors include such crimes as false swearing in official matters, bigamy and impersonating a public servant, among other crimes. The maximum sentence for conviction of a second-degree misdemeanor is up to two years in prison and no more than $5,000 in fines.
Third-degree misdemeanors include certain types of disorderly conduct, loitering and prowling at night, and open lewdness, among other crimes. The maximum sentence for a conviction on a third-degree misdemeanor is up to one year of incarceration and no more than $2,500 in fines.
The governor’s office said that between 70 million and 100 million Americans — as many as one in three American adults — have some type of criminal record and 27 states allow some misdemeanor and even some felony convictions to be expunged or sealed.
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