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Expungement or Pardon- What's the Difference?

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An expungement will be granted by a court of common pleas when certain enumerated circumstances have been met.  A Pardon is granted by the Governor of PA upon application and a hearing before the Board of Pardons.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Expungement/Pardon Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

I have often gotten calls from potential clients wondering if they can get an expungement for heir felony record.  Or, if they can get a pardon for a summary conviction, such as disorderly conduct.  There is a clear misunderstanding or ignorance about what is desired.  The purpose of this article is to address what's the difference and can I get some relief?

What's an expungement?

Expungement means that a criminal record, history of conviction or arrest is wiped clean or deleted as if it never existed.  Expungements are governed by a specific statute found in the PA Crimes Code and are granted by the court of common pleas where the crime occurred.  The time frame for an expungement is relatively short (2-3 months).  Title 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 9122 provides that an expungement may be granted for a felony or misdemeanor if:

  1. An individual who is the subject of the information reaches 70 years of age and has been free of arrest or prosecution for ten years following final release from confinement or supervision; or 
  2. An individual who is the subject of the information has been dead for three years; or for all summary offenses
  3. An individual who is the subject of the information petitions the court for the expungement of a summary offense and has been free of arrest or prosecution for five years following the conviction for that offense; or for a summary underage drinking offense only
  4. A person 21 years of age or older who has been convicted of a violation of section 6308 (relating to purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor or malt or brewed beverages) petitions the court of common pleas in the county where the conviction occurred seeking expungement and they've satsified the PADOT requirements for their license suspension; or for an arrest record only (no conviction occurred)
  5. Upon order of the court of common pleas

What's a Pardon?

A pardon clears or absolves someone of their conviction like it never happened.  A pardon is governed by the PA Constitution, Const. Art. 4, § 9, and is given to an individual serving a life or death sentence (murder for instance) or another crime, such as a misdemeanor or felony.  It is granted upon application filed with the Board of Pardons and a hearing before the Board.  A majority of the Board must recommend a pardon be granted to the Governor of the Commonwealth, who then must sign the Pardon for it to become effective.  If the pardon is for the commutation (shortening) of a life or death sentence, it must a unanimous decision by the Board.  The Board of Pardons is made up of the Lieutenant Governor who shall be chairman, the Attorney General and three members appointed by the Governor for terms of six years. The three members appointed by the Governor shall be residents of Pennsylvania. One shall be a crime victim, one a corrections expert and the third a doctor of medicine, psychiatrist or psychologist.  The time frame to receive a pardon, if granted, is approximately 3 to 4 years.

What's the bottom line?

So, the take away from this is that you may be entitled to an expungement if you meet the specific statutory requirements.  If not, you may eligible for a Governor's Pardon.  The obvious challenge, however, is filling out the application, getting it approved by the Board for a hearing, presenting your case to the Board and actually having the pardon granted by the Governor.  The process is slow and time consuming.  But, to rectify the issues in your life, such as loss of meaningful employment, it's necessary.

In either event, you will want to get a certified copy of your PA Criminal History from the Pennsylvania State Police.  It's quick and easy to order, here's the link. 

If you are interested in seeking a pardon or an expungement, contact the experienced team at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us.  We've handled numerous cases before the PA Pardons Board and filed countless petitions for expungement of convictions and arrest records.

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