Now supported by Pennsylvania’s largest prosecutor’s group, a bill to allow expungement of minor criminal records was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
To help with employment prospects, Senate Bill 391—introduced by state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg—would allow individuals who were convicted of certain misdemeanors of the second and third degree to apply to have the record expunged if they keep a clean record for seven years and 10 years, respectively.
The Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association has announced its support.
“Senator Solobay's bill has been the subject of much discussion over the last four or five years, and reflects the efforts of a number of interested groups to fashion a balanced piece of legislation,” the group said in a letter to lawmakers. “PDAA supports this legislation.”
“I appreciate the support of those who work on the front lines of the criminal justice system,” Solobay said. “It wipes away any misconception that expungement means going soft on crime. The truth is, prosecutors don’t want to see the same faces coming through the courthouse time after time and we all have to pay taxes.
He continued: "This bill recognizes genuine efforts at rehabilitation; it makes sense for our justice system and it makes sense for taxpayers.”
Pennsylvania’s prison population has jumped from just more than 8,000 to more than 51,000 in the past 20 years, at an average cost of $90 a day per prisoner.
Sentencing reforms enacted in 2012 have already begun to lower prison costs and the Legislature needs to continue to reform the system, Solobay said.
“Computers have made criminal records checks more common and the recession has made job-hunting more competitive,” he said. “There’s no reason why a bad check charge from the 1980s should prevent someone from getting a job and supporting themselves today.”
Senate Bill 391 is similar to Senate Bill 1220 of the 2011-2012 session, which also cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously, but never received a floor vote.
The bill allows courts to grant expungement of a criminal record if the crime is a misdemeanor of the third or second degree and the individual has not been arrested or prosecuted for seven to ten years following the completion of the sentence or judicial supervision.
It would not apply to offenses punishable by more than one year in prison or pertaining to certain forms of assault, sex offense, cruelty to animals, firearms offenses, and certain other crimes.
Under current law, the crimes could not be expunged until after the offender reaches the age of 70, or had been deceased for more than three years.