What’s the ‘Clean Slate’ Law?
The often-used term “clean slate” means starting new, typically with a fresh approach. The state’s Clean Slate Law (Act 56 of 2018), which Gov. Wolf signed into law June 28, 2018, became effective 180 days after it was signed.
Clean Slate seals the records of nonviolent offenders after they’ve been “clean” (haven’t been convicted of another offense) for 10 years.
Pennsylvania is the first state to enact such a law. Gov. Wolf’s press release on signing the bill indicates that nearly 3 million Pennsylvanians of working age are estimated to have criminal records, with many that are only minor.
The Clean Slate Law allows records of second- and third-degree misdemeanor criminal convictions to be automatically sealed after a 10-year period without subsequent offenses. It does not apply to violent offenses or those committed with a firearm or other dangerous item, sexual offenses, cruelty to animals, or corruption of minors.
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network’s website, palegalaid.net, indicates that the bill that became law (House Bill 419) received bipartisan support. It was conceived by Community Legal Services and the Center for American Progress.
According to Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, “Clean Slate has enjoyed unusually broad support from a wide variety of organizations from across the political spectrum. Notable among these groups are: the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO; Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity – PA; and the Players Coalition, through Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long and former Eagle Torrey Smith.”
Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said he and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association supported the bill.
“From our point of view, it’s been long overdue,” Stedman said. “What this law does is give the right people a second chance, an opportunity to redirect their life. For most of these offenses, people would have done little time and most likely the sentence would have been probation. These are not hardened criminals. People connected to their community and who are employed are less likely to commit another crime.”
He said when he started with the district attorney’s office nearly a decade ago, criminal records weren’t as accessible as they are today. Now with the internet and its various search engines, the public, including potential employers, can access these records relatively easily.
He explained that when records are sealed, they’re not available to the public but can still be accessed by law enforcement agencies. The records are not wiped out as they would be with a pardon.
Information on Community Legal Services of Philadelphia’s website, clsphila.org, indicates that “records sealed under Clean Slate are not considered convictions. If information regarding criminal history is requested, a person whose record has been sealed by Clean Slate may respond as if the offense did not occur. This is the case unless the information is requested by a criminal justice agency or disclosure is required by federal law.”
Stedman said Clean Slate is so new there’s no data yet to determine its effectiveness, but he feels it will work and benefit the community as a whole. Giving this second chance will also increase the pool of potential candidates for jobs.
Employers seeking guidance about the law and how it affects their business or employment-application process should contact their legal counsel.