Ordinary citizens may need access to their criminal records for all sorts of reasons. Many jobs now require a criminal background check, especially those involving public transportation or welfare. Additionally, adoptions, visas and other foreign obligations require a criminal record to be submitted. In Pennsylvania, these criminal records are maintained in the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository as well as the district and state courts. All Pennsylvania citizens have a right to such records, and this article will provide clear instructions as to how to obtain them, as well as how to dispute them and correct any errors on the record.
Criminal records in Pennsylvania are governed by Title 18, Part III, Chapter 91. This statute mandates that all such records will be accurate, easily obtained by the public, and not surrendered except to authorized persons. Pennsylvania citizens thus have a statutory right to such records; however the state is authorized to charge for access. Additionally, citizens are guaranteed the right to have their record corrected if it is inaccurate, and an appeals process is in place, although each agency is permitted to establish its own appeals protocol.
Pennsylvania employs a modernized, fully digital system for their criminal records, enabling quick and easy access to both citizens and law enforcement. The web-based "Pennsylvania Access To Criminal History" or "PATCH" system is openly available to any and all persons, and enables citizens to request a full criminal history. A requester can even have the complete history notarized, for the purposes of international adoption, international employment, visa applications, citizenship applications, or in other special circumstances.
In order to begin a PATCH request, it is necessary to go to the PATCH website and create an account.
The account will store basic information such as the account holder's name and address, as well as past criminal history requests. From there it is simply a matter of filling out the necessary forms provided by PATCH to enable a full background search. It is necessary to provide one's full name, address, social security number, and any past names and addresses. It will also be necessary to enter a credit card number in order to pay for the expense of the search. Prices begin at $10 per search and increase for in-depth searches or complete records which require additional processing and services (such as notarization).
Once this information is entered, an automated system will conduct the search. In the event that a criminal record is blank (i.e. there is nothing to report) the system will generally return an instantaneous result. The state of Pennsylvania claims that 85% of such blank criminal records can be returned instantaneously. Keep in mind that violation level offenses (i.e. parking tickets, speeding tickets and other offenses that cannot result in jail time) will not appear on this criminal record.
Records having one or more entries, or which may have entries and thus merit further scrutiny, can take up to three weeks to be returned, as they must be propagated across all relevant agencies in the Pennsylvania criminal justice system. As the request must be handed across multiple agencies, there is no accurate way to predict how long a non-instantaneous result will take, nor when it will be completed.
Persons who do not have a credit card or do not wish to file online are invited to file using a paper application, which can be found here.
A copy of that form, along with a $10 check, should be sent to:
Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository - 164
1800 Elmerton Avenue
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9758
The results of this search will be mailed to the requester within three weeks of the request's receipt by the state, and the specific return date cannot be predicted with any accuracy. A record requested in this manner will be identical to one provided with the PATCH system and the same options for notarization are available.
Lastly, Pennsylvania citizens are able to request copies of criminal records by going to the individual courts where those records were initiated. This is not an option for persons having no criminal record, as those persons have no specific court or agency to request from, and they must instead obtain their blank record from the state via the PATCH system or form mentioned above.
Citizens who know that they obtained a criminal record due to a conviction in a specific court may return to that court in order to obtain a copy of that record. In general the record will be limited to that court; however it is possible to begin a statewide request at that court location by filling out a Criminal History Request Form at that location. Persons requesting only the local court record should be able to receive a copy from that clerk at the time of the request. All Pennsylvania courts have facilities available to permit the copying of the record on behalf of the requester.
If a requester finds that there is an error in his or her criminal record, it is up to the requester to bring the error to the attention of the relevant law enforcement agency or court in order to have this error corrected. All Pennsylvania residents have a right under Title 18, Part III, Chapter 91, Subchapter B, section 9114, to have their record corrected, however, the burden of proof is on the requester to show that the information is incorrect. Court rulings, copies of criminal records from other agencies, and other relevant information may be presented as proof of this error. The proof must be submitted directly to the agency that is responsible for the error. Upon submission of such proof, the agency has 15 days to correct the error and disseminate the correction across the entire Criminal Records System, as well as inform all relevant parties who received the erroneous record.
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