Q & A: Does expungement really provide a clean criminal record?

We often have clients ask about expungement, especially as it relates to completing Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) or Probation Without Verdict (PWOV or Section 17).  Whether an expungement truly provides the benefit of a completely clean record depends on the vigilance of a few public employees and the diligence of private background search companies.

The first step is for the local Clerk of Courts (or Prothonotary in smaller counties) to notify the Pennsylvania State Police of the expungement order.  Once PSP is notified of the expungement they are supposed to report it to the FBI.  We have no inside information regarding how often that happens or doesn’t happen, nor can we tell you how long it would take for that entire process to occur.  It varies greatly depending on the county involved.  However, the FBI has a form that each state’s criminal records depository is supposed to use to inform them of expungement orders.  Obviously, the process takes time.

But wait, there’s more.  Some employers will conduct criminal record checks through private organizations like Lexis-Nexis and there is a chance that the conviction will still appear in their database.  These private organizations are not bound by court orders and once they have it, they won’t remove it.  There is a process through which the accuracy of the information reported on those private databases can be contested, but again, that’s a time-consuming process.

The bottom line is that total expungement is possible, but it requires some follow-up after the order has been issued.