Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bill Aiming to Seal Some Misdemeanor Convictions

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bill Aiming to Seal Some Misdemeanor Convictions

Article excerpt

A legislative bill - supported by a coalition of groups from the left and right - would automatically seal old, nonviolent misdemeanor offenses for Pennsylvanians who have not had any additional convictions for at least 10 years.

The so-called "Clean Slate" bill, approved by the state Senate last month, is being touted as a common-sense criminal justice reform that Republicans and Democrats can agree on, as it would help people who committed minor crimes long ago obtain employment.

"We focused on advocating for this because of the anti-poverty effect of this [bill]," said Sharon Dietrich, litigation director at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which assists people with employment problems due to criminal records. "So many people in this commonwealth are walking around with records, many of which are for things that are minor or extremely old."

The bill would seal nonviolent misdemeanor convictions where 10 years have gone by with no other convictions. This would happen automatically, without an individual needing to file a petition with the court.

"A Clean Slate law would help, without having to go through a legal process again," said Tracey McCants Lewis, associate clinical professor and pro bono program coordinator at Duquesne University School of Law.

The proposal goes further than Act 5, which was signed into law last year, allowing some old, minor convictions to be sealed, though an individual has to petition the court to have a record sealed, unlike the automatic process envisioned under the Clean Slate proposal.

The bill is supported by an ideologically diverse coalition including right-leaning FreedomWorks and the liberal Center for American Progress. It's also supported by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, a bipartisan group that has advocated for the bill along with other criminal justice reforms, said the coalition of groups involved may support the legislation for different reasons, such as liberal groups who care about fighting poverty or conservative groups who see it as fighting unnecessary government intrusion. …

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