The Lead

Acquitted individuals still have a criminal record. This proposed law would change that

By: - June 5, 2019 1:02 pm

House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, of Philadelphia (Capital-Star photo).

Two House lawmakers want the state to automatically expunge the records of anyone fully acquitted of criminal charges or granted a full pardon.

The legislation was introduced in February by Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Mercer, who were joined by their colleagues Wednesday at a Capitol event to promote the bill.

“[When] an acquittal is granted, that should be the start of a clean record,” McClinton, a former public defender, said Wednesday.

Currently, if a person is acquitted of criminal charges, he needs to petition a court to have his record cleared. That process involves paying court fees that can run hundreds of dollars per charge.

McClinton said she often had to walk acquitted individuals through the expungement process.

Automatic expungement would not apply to partial acquittals, and the state would have an opportunity to object before one is granted.

As for pardoned individuals, a state Supreme Court ruling from 1987 found that “a pardon without expungement is not a pardon.” The bill, according to its supporters, streamlines what is due to a person granted clemency.

The bill has the backing of the usual odd bedfellows who make up the state’s burgeoning criminal justice reform coalition — the conservative think tank Americans for Prosperity and the American Civil Liberties Union. It also has the support of both the state’s criminal defense attorneys’ association and the state district attorneys’ association, as well as new Board of Pardons director Brandon Flood.

The bill would also eliminate fees for an acquitted or pardoned individual to have their record cleared. Flood, who received a pardon for drug-related crimes, said he had to pay $300 each to expunge his five charges.

“Not everyone has $1,500 just sitting around,” Flood said.

A University of Michigan study released in March found that individuals who have their criminal records expunged see their pay increase on average by 25 percent within two years.

The expungement process can still take months, if not years, in Pennsylvania.

Brad Winnick, Dauphin County’s chief public defender and president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, said extra funding to the State Police could expedite the process.

But the bill “at least gets the process moving quicker,” Winnick said.

McClinton said she expects the bill could pass the House by the end of the month.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.