Expungement Day was a start, more work to do
As you may know, many of our residents here in the City of Pittsburgh took advantage of “Expungement Day” on Monday, Nov. 14. This was possible because of Act 5 of 2016, legislation I was proud to support earlier this year.
The newly effective law means individuals with certain low-level misdemeanors on their criminal records can petition the court to request “an order of limited access” to those records, provided that they have remained arrest-free for a period of at least ten years.
Despite the victory this represents for criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania, which is one of my top priorities as your state representative, the reality is there is still much more work to do.
Something important to keep in mind is that a limited access order is not the same thing as expungement. Expungement is the removal of a conviction from your record, whereas limited access orders means records will still be available to law enforcement agencies and other state agencies, but an individual who obtains relief will not need to disclose those convictions on job applications, for example. Additionally, those records will not be available to the general public from the court.
Act 5 of 2016 relieves the burden of disclosing old, low-level offenses for thousands of Pennsylvanians who may have made some mistakes in the past but who have maintained crime-free lifestyles for a significant period of time. While I am encouraged by this progress, when the new Legislative Session begins next year I will continue to work with my colleagues to see the enactment of legislation that will provide full criminal record expungement. This will directly benefit thousands of Pennsylvanians suffering from past convictions that prohibit them from obtaining gainful employment and housing. It will allow them to move past prior offenses and become productive citizens.
That said, expungement is not the only reform to our criminal justice system I have proposed. This year I introduced legislation, with the support of both the majority and minority Transportation Chairmen, providing for an amnesty program for driver’s with suspended licenses due to failure to pay fines and penalties. Also, language from legislation I introduced regarding Occupational Limited Licenses (OLLs), was agreed to as an amendment, allowing those with low-level drug possession charges to be able to drive to school or work during their suspension. Although OLL legislation did not get to the finish line this Session, I am hopeful we will pass this into law in the new Session.
There are too many cases, in whatever form it may take, in which someone makes a mistake when they’re young and it wreaks havoc on their life for years to come. I am pleased we were finally able to put the order for limited access into law, but I assure you our efforts toward full expungement and many of the other criminal justice reforms we continue to fight for, are far from over.
Rep. Jake Wheatley
19th Legislative District in Allegheny County