Many people see the start of a new year as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again. Thanks to a new law that took effect in Pennsylvania last month, many people with histories of arrests or convictions will be able to seal criminal records so that landlords and employers, among others, will no longer be able to access them. The law goes by the name Clean Slate because that is essentially what it does for the people it affects. 

Sealing a criminal record is not the same as an expungement, which results in the destruction of criminal records. In other words, the record will be inaccessible to public view, but not destroyed entirely. However, once sealing of the record takes place, only certain people will have access to it: certain employers, such as those who utilize FBI background checks and those required by federal law to consider the record, as well as law enforcement. 

Under the new law, there are several ways in which sealing of records may take place. Some records will require a petition in order to have them sealed, while sealing of others will take place automatically after an acceptable timeframe has elapsed. Even if an individual’s record is set to seal automatically, the individual may file a petition to expedite the process. 

The law only applies to misdemeanors, not felonies, and only after meeting certain conditions. For example, the misdemeanor must have been nonviolent, one must have paid all applicable fines and had no further convictions over a 10-year span of time. Other requirements may apply to individual situations.

If authorities deem the law a success, other states may adopt similar legislation. Those with past convictions, or currently facing the prospect of future convictions, may find it helpful to have a discussion with an attorney.