Simply put, a criminal conviction changes your life — and not for the better.
Anyone with a criminal record faces the daily reality of how their life is altered the moment the conviction becomes final. Depending on the seriousness of your crime, you can lose valuable rights and suffer other consequences such as:
- Employers won’t hire you.
- Landlords won’t rent to you.
- Banks won’t lend to you.
- The military may not let you enlist.
- Colleges may deny you admission or expel you.
- You can’t vote, serve on a jury, or own a firearm.
- You can’t receive welfare benefits, Medicaid, or food stamps.
- You can lose scholarships.
- You can be ineligible for state and federal educational financial aid.
- You can be ineligible for certain professional licenses or jobs.
- You can lose your driver’s license.
- You can be deported.
But the law offers two ways to clear your name and clean your record: pardons and expungements.
A pardon is an executive order from a state Governor or the President of the United States that in essence wipes away a criminal conviction. You are officially forgiven for your crime, recognized that you’ve served a long enough sentence or paid a sufficient fine, and rewarded for turning your life around.
A pardon doesn’t automatically seal or erase your criminal record, but it can be a first step in that process. A pardon does, however, restore the civil rights you lost and your eligibility for government benefits.
A Pennsylvania or New Jersey pardon can only remove that state’s criminal conviction from your record, whereas a federal criminal conviction can only be cleared by a federal pardon.
The Pennsylvania pardon process involves several steps:
- Draft and submit a pardon application to the Pardon Board
- Compile the necessary attachments to the application
- The Pardon Board (using agents from the Parole and Probation Board) conducts an investigation, interviews you, and then prepares a report
- The Pardon Board conducts a merit review of your application and the investigation report, and then votes to approve or disapprove the application
- If the application is approved, the Pardon Board holds a public hearing
- If the Board decides favorably, it recommends to the Governor that you receive a pardon
- The Governor decides whether to grant or deny the pardon
Factors considered in granting a pardon include:
- The seriousness of your offense.
- The time elapsed since you committed the crime.
- Your compliance with court requirements.
- The positive changes in your life.
- Your specific need for the pardon.
- The impact your crime had on its victims.
Both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey pardon processes can take years to complete, and if your initial application is denied, there are long waiting periods before you can reapply.
A federal pardon is not available until five years following completion of your prison sentence and payment of any fine. As with a Pennsylvania or New Jersey pardon, the federal pardon process is complicated and takes years to complete.
An expungement is the process for sealing and removing your criminal record so that it is no longer publicly available. All law enforcement authorities (State Police, local police departments, District Attorneys’ Offices, Courts, etc.) will be required to erase the arrest or conviction from your record and anyone conducting a background check will not be able to see your erased conviction.
But Pennsylvania and New Jersey have different expungement rules. Except in a few circumstances (described below), Pennsylvania will only expunge “summary convictions” – meaning convictions for relatively minor crimes. New Jersey, in contrast, permits the expungement of a broader range of criminal convictions.
An expungement is similar to a pardon in that it removes an arrest or conviction from your record and restores your civil rights and government benefits.
For example, in certain criminal cases, Pennsylvania will seal your record automatically, but that sealing will only prevent the public from seeing your record – law enforcement officials will continue to have access to it. An expungement goes further than a sealed criminal record – even law enforcement cannot view an expunged arrest, indictment or conviction.
Available expungements in Pennsylvania include:
- Expungement after successful completion of Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (used for first time non-violent offenders of lower-level offenses—like DUI)
- Expungement after reaching 70 without an arrest or prosecution for ten years after completion of prison term, probation and parole
- Expungement three years after the offender’s death
- Expungement five years after conviction for a summary offense
- Expungement of a conviction for underage alcohol offenses if offender was 18 or older at the time, is now 21 or older, and has fulfilled all terms of the sentence and completed the required driver’s license suspension
- Expungement of acquitted charges, or after dismissed with withdrawn charges
In New Jersey, while there are some statutory complexities and exceptions, the available expungements include:
- Expungement after 10 years of remaining conviction-free
- Expungement five years after completing sentence (term of incarceration and/or payment of any mandatory fine) if the expungement is in the public interest
- Expungement three years after completing sentence for a Disorderly and/or Petty Disorderly Offense
Similar to pardons, obtaining an expungement can be complicated and time-consuming and your chances of success will improve by engaging an attorney with extensive experience in Pennsylvania and New Jersey criminal law.
At Michael J. Diamondstein, P.C. we know the value of a clean record. And having secured pardons and expungements for our clients, we also know the joy of helping people get a second chance.
Call Michael J. Diamondstein, P.C. at 215-940-2700 or submit our contact form to schedule your free initial consultation.
At Michael J. Diamondstein, P.C., we’ve had tremendous success in obtaining pardons for our clients. Some of our recent successes include:
Obtained pardon for client’s drug felony conviction in Delaware County, Pennsylvania (Manufacture, Delivery or Possession with Intent to Manufacture or Deliver) for which he received a sentence of 24 months of probation plus payment of costs and supervision fees.
Obtained pardon for client’s drug felony conviction in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (Delivery of a Controlled Substance) for which he received a sentence of 28 days to 23 months of jail time, two years of probation, and payment of costs.