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A criminal charge should not stick with you forever. Mistakes happen and people must be allowed to move on. Because of this, the criminal justice system allows for the expungement and sealing of criminal records.


There are three main ways to clear your criminal record:


These options are each different in their own way, but they all achieve the same result – preventing a past mistake from impacting your future. Contact our office for a free consultation to find out if you qualify for one of the options above. Let Philadelphia Expungement Attorney, Michael F. Niznik, help you clear your criminal record and move on with your life.


An expungement is the process of sealing and destroying the records of a criminal charge or conviction. This process covers the destruction of all records of a charge or convictions across all criminal justice agencies - from the courts, to the police, to the jail and probation systems. An expungement allows you to move on with your life without fear of an employer or anyone else being able to look up a past mistake. 




Under Pennsylvania law, you will qualify for an expungement of misdemeanor or felony charges provided you were not convicted or enter into a guilty plea to those charges. 


Additonally, you will qualify for an expungement if you were convicted of a crime and: 

  • It has been 5 years since a summary conviction and you have had no charges in the meantime.

  • You are 70 years or older and have not had an arrest in 10 years since being released from supervision. 

  • No disposition was received on your charges.

  • A court order requires that the charges be expunged.

  • You are at least 21 years old and were convicted of purchasing or transporting alcohol as a minor. 

  • The person for whom you are seeking an expungement is deceased and it has been 3 years since their passing. 




If you are eligible for an expungement, you must petition the court to expunge your record. A petition involves many documents and each county court has a different system for their expungement process. Typically, an expungement petition includes a recent criminal background check, an order directing the criminal justice agencies to destroy the records, your docket sheet showing the charges, a filing fee, and the petition itself.




The expungement petition you will need to use differs based on which type of criminal charge you are seeking to have expunged. A Rule 490 Petition is used for summary offenses that were disposed of at the municipal court level. (35 P. S. § 490).  All other expungements that do not fall under ARD, Juvenile, Section 17 or Rule 490 will be governed by Rule 790. (35 P. S. § 790). A Rule 790 Petition is used to expunge misdemeanor and felony charges along with summary charges that were included with other offenses. 




During most expungements, a hearing is scheduled before an expungement Judge; however, many times our office is able to have an expungement granted before the hearing commences. In these instances, the hearing will be canceled and our client will not need to show up to court.




Once an expungement petition is granted, the Judge signs an order directing all criminal justice agencies to destroy their records of the charge or conviction. After this destruction occurs, these agencies will verify that the records have been destroyed. At that time, the expungement is completed. 


At the Law Office of Michael F. Niznik, Philadelphia expungement attorney, Michael Niznik, has extensive experience petitioning the court for expungements.  Our firm handles every step of the process – from obtaining all necessary documentation to preparing your petition and, if necessary, representing you in court. 




Effective November 14, 2016, a new Pennsylvania law allows for certain misdemeanor convictions to be sealed. This law also allows those who have their records sealed to lawfully refuse to disclose these convictions to employers. Once sealed, disclosure is only mandatory to criminal justice agencies – and only when requested or required, or by and for the official use of a governmental agency under the expungement law. 

Once the Record Seal is granted, criminal justice agencies are also prohibited from disclosing the sealed information. This includes all police, jail, prison, probation departments and district attorneys’ offices.

This law differs from an expungement, which is the complete destruction of the conviction and all charging documents. Rather, sealing the record closes the files permanently so that the conviction will no longer show up on a criminal history background check.


Those convicted of many second degree, third degree and ungraded misdemeanors are eligible for sealing. These convictions, and the penalty associated with them, must have occurred 10 or more years ago and the petitioner must have remained arrest free in the interim. The 10-year time period does not start until the end of probation or parole.

Common convictions that will be eligible to be sealed include first offense DUIs, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and certain theft, trespass and firearm offenses.


Anyone convicted of the following is ineligible to have their record sealed:

  • Ungraded Misdemeanor punishable by more than two years in prison or on probation;

  • Impersonating a Public Servant;

  • Retaliation Against a Witness;

  • Intimidation of Witnesses;

  • Obstruction of Child Abuse Case;

  • A conviction that requires Meghan’s Law (sex offender) registration;

  • Sexual Intercourse with an Animal;

  • Four of more misdemeanor offenses; or

  • A second degree misdemeanor for Simple Assault.


§ 9122.1 Order for Limited Access – The Record Sealing law in Pennsylvania states, in part:

(a) General rule.—The following shall apply:

(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, upon petition of a person who has been free of arrest or prosecution following conviction or final release from confinement or supervision, whichever is later, for a period of 10 years, the court of common pleas in the jurisdiction where the conviction occurred may enter an order that criminal history record information maintained by any criminal justice agency pertaining to a conviction for a misdemeanor of the second degree, a misdemeanor of the third degree or an ungraded offense which carries a maximum penalty of no more than two years be disseminated only to a criminal justice agency or a government agency as provided in section 9121(b.1) and (b.2) (relating to general regulations).

(2) Except when requested or required by a criminal justice agency, or by and for the official use of a government agency described in section 9121(b.1) or 9124(a) (relating to use of records by licensing agencies), no individual shall be required nor requested to disclose information about the person’s criminal history records that are the subject of a court order for limited access granted under this section…


The process of securing a pardon is complex and involves many different aspects. The process is lengthy – sometimes taking as long as two and a half years from start to finish.  However, when successful, charges are removed from your record where it otherwise would not be possible.




In order to obtain a pardon in Pennsylvania, a pardon application must first be completed and submitted to the Board of Pardons. Once submitted and filed, the Board will review the application and then schedule an interview in your home with a State Parole agent. This agent will collect information on you to determine your eligibility and whether you are a responsible, contributing member of society. The agent will then submit a report the Pardon Board.


At this stage of the process, the trial judge and district attorney who prosecuted your case will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the matter. The application is then sent to the Board for final review.




The Pardon Board consists of five members. The Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, a victim representative, a corrections expert, and a psychologist. In order to obtain a hearing, generally at least two members of the Board must vote to grant you one. This process typically takes one year. If the Board grants your hearing request, a hearing is scheduled in Harrisburg.


The Pardon hearing is a very important part of the process. This hearing allows you to demonstrate how you have changed since the charge. You must attend this Pardon hearing with your attorney. I usually recommend bringing along other members of your life as well to speak to your character and your contributions to you community. The Board will ask questions to determine whether you admit your guilt and whether you are remorseful.


The Board will then take a public vote. If at least three members of the Board vote to grant your pardon, the Board recommends that you receive a pardon and this recommendation is sent to the Pennsylvania Governor.




The Governor has the final say on all pardon matters but he typically follows the Board’s recommendation. If granted, you will receive a signed document from the Governor.




The final step will be conducting an expungement in the county where you were charged. You will need to file a petition for an expungement and attach the signed pardon from the Governor. A judge will then order that your record be cleared, and all criminal justice agencies that have any record of your arrest, charge, or conviction will be directed to destroy those records.


It is important to be represented by a competent, knowledgeable attorney at every step of the pardon process. If you are seeking a pardon, contact Philadelphia pardon lawyer Michael F. Niznik today for a free consultation.




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