On February 23, the Pennsylvania State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 166, which if enacted would improve the expungement law in Pennsylvania and provide former offenders a much needed second chance. SB 166 would expand the law to allow the expungement of some misdemeanor convictions in Pennsylvania after the former offender satisfies a waiting period. This bill would help many people who committed low-level misdemeanor offenses in Pennsylvania move past their prior mistakes.
Senate Bill 166 Provides for Misdemeanor Conviction Expungement
SB 166, which was recently introduced by State Senator Stewart Greenleaf provides for the same changes to Pennsylvania’s expungement law as Senate Bill 391. Under the new law certain former offenders would be able to expunge their misdemeanor conviction after a waiting period has been satisfied. In October of 2013, the PA State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 391, which provided for the same improvements to the expungement statute. However, following passage in the senate, SB 391 was sent to the PA House for consideration but was never brought up for a vote.
“A low-level misdemeanor in a person’s past can often serve as a continual barrier when seeking work, long after they have completed their sentence,” State Senator Greenleaf stated in his memorandum announcing the introduction of this bill. According to Greenleaf, SB 166 would help the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by “countering high rates of recidivism, relieving an overburdened pardon system, and providing an opportunity for ex-offenders to join our workforce.”
Limitations of the Current Law
Pennsylvania’s current expungement law prevents those individuals with misdemeanor or felony convictions to clear their record, regardless of how much time has passed. The limited situations in which a conviction expungement is permitted are if the individual is over seventy years of age and conviction free for five years or if the person has been dead for three years. SB 166 would allow people who have nonviolent second or third degree misdemeanors to petition to have their criminal records expunged if they have not re-offended in ten years for second degree misdemeanors or seven years in the case for third degree misdemeanors.
If Senate Bill 166 is enacted, Pennsylvania would join a growing number of states across the country that have recently improved their expungement laws in order to reduce the negative effects that a criminal record can have as a former offender tries to find employment and contribute to society. This trend shows that legislators are beginning to see the importance of allowing former offenders the opportunity to move forward without the stigma that comes with a conviction. The benefits are incalculable for the former offenders that directly benefit by becoming eligible to expunge his or her records, but society at large also stands to benefit from bills such as Senate Bill 166.
What is Next for Senate Bill 166?
Following its unanimous passage in the Senate, SB 166 will next go to the PA House for consideration. We will continue to post updates as this bill makes its way through Pennsylvania’s legislature.