HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf has announced the overwhelming passage of the Clean Slate Law, which allows those who committed certain low-level crimes — or were arrested but found innocent — to have their records sealed.
The arrests or crimes must have taken place at least 10 years ago, and all fines and fees associated with the instances must be paid in full.
“Clean Slate is an incredibly important piece of my administration’s commitment to helping formerly incarcerated or arrested individuals get their lives back on track,” Wolf said.
Wolf’s announcement said the state Community Legal Services and state Bar Association will partner to offer free legal help to residents who think they might be eligible for the law.
Sharon Dietrich, legislation director for Community Legal Services, said she is pleased that law-abiding residents with old misdemeanors will be able to have the records sealed and move forward with their lives.
“As of Dec. 26, 2018, non-violent first-degree misdemeanors and most simple assault convictions became eligible for sealing, if the individual has not been convicted of 10 years and if no fines and costs are owed,” Dietrich said.
Anne N. John, president of the state Bar Association, said the organization is proud to help residents participate in the law.
“For those eligible, the impact of this program will be life changing,” John said, “opening doors to better opportunities for housing and jobs.”
Susan Bowser, site manager of the Butler Chapter of CareerLink, said she worked with one woman who didn’t even know she had a record upon interviewing for a job and being hired.
“Her employer said, ‘Why did you lie to me?’ and fired her,” Bowser said. “She had to pay thousands to get (an arrest) removed from her record.”
Those who are arrested, but found innocent, still have a record that shows they were arrested, which can become a barrier to jobs and housing.
“It’s something that is not your fault and follows you around,” Bowser said.
She said those who may have committed crimes in their youth, but are now model citizens, often have trouble succeeding in employment because of their records, which do not represent who they are in the present.
“People make mistakes and, 20 years later, you shouldn’t have to pay for those mistakes,” Bowser said.
She said CareerLink is now working to create a workshop that residents can attend to find out if they are eligible for the law.
A program should be in place by summer, Bowser said.
She is thrilled that more people will be able to access better jobs as a result of the Clean Slate law.
“It’s going to help job seekers who have a record to get it taken care of, so it won’t be a barrier to their employment opportunities,” Bowser said.
Jackie Dimun, president of the county Bar Association, said her organization’s members will attend training workshops offered by the state Bar Association to apprise themselves of the Clean Slate law.
“We are going to take advantage of that,” Dimun said.
She could not comment on whether the county association would offer free help to those inquiring whether they are eligible for the law, as the members have not had a meeting since the law was announced.
Lisa Lotz, the county clerk of courts, said preliminary information on the law of which she is aware shows that the state Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts will electronically select cases that are potentially eligible for the Clean Slate law.
That office will then send each county’s state police barracks the cases pertaining to that county, and the state police will go through them to determine which are eligible.
Lotz said it could be that all those who are eligible will automatically be “clean slated.” She does not know if those individuals would then be notified of the action.
Lotz also is unsure of how defendants whose cases occurred before the database was instituted will access the law.
“I’m waiting to hear how this is really going to work,” Lotz said.
She said the process would be infinitely easier than the current expungement process, known as Act 4. In that process, individuals must apply for their record to be expunged by a county judge, which can be a costly and time-consuming process.
More information on the new Clean Slate law is available at www.mycleanslatepa.com.