Skip to main content
Get Urgent Help


Expungements, Sealing, Limited Access Orders, & Pardons

Many students are concerned about how a citation, charge, or conviction will impact their future employment. Pennsylvania law provides three ways to clean up a criminal record: expungement, petition-based sealing, and automatic sealing.


If a court orders an expungement, nearly all court and administrative criminal history record information related to the charge or conviction are destroyed. Expungement is available for limited types of records, such as: 

  • Non-conviction data (this includes charges and citations that result in a disposition of 'not guilty,' 'withdrawn,' 'dismissed,' 'dismissed-YOP/YES,' or 'nolle prosse').
  • Underage drinking convictions--at age 21 and upon completion of all court-ordered requirements.
  • Other summary offenses--after 5 years as long as the individual has been free from arrest or prosecution during that time.
  • Offenses for which unconditional pardons were granted.
  • Cases in which the individual is acquitted of each charge arising from the same criminal episode.

Limited Access Order

A criminal record can be sealed through a “Limited Access Order,” which is an order that limits the dissemination of certain criminal history record information.  Once obtained, criminal justice agencies and children and youth services would still be able to access the information, but the general public would not have the same access.  For example, a private employer would not be able to access the information and would be prohibited from even asking about sealed records. There are several important exceptions to these general rules, so before you answer a question on a job application, you should talk to a lawyer.

The rules determining what offenses are eligible for limited access orders are complicated.  Generally, limited access orders can be granted after an individual files a Petition for Limited Access for certain offenses, including certain felonies.  A filing fee is required by the court for this petition.  The eligibility requirements have changed a few times over the past several years, so it is best to talk to an attorney if you think you may be eligible.

Automatic Sealing

Certain offenses may also be sealed, but it happens automatically rather than the petition-based sealing described above. Thus, the individual who has the criminal record does not need to file a petition or pay a filing fee. This law gives the court and the Pennsylvania State Police 90 days to seal the record after it becomes eligible. Once automatically sealed, the same limited dissemination rules that were discussed above in the Limited Access Order section apply to the automatic sealing process.

Like the rules for Petitions for Limited Access orders, the eligibility requirements for automatic sealing of prior convictions are quite complicated. Talk to an attorney if you think you may be eligible.

If you have charges that were dismissed, withdrawn, or resulted in a disposition that did not result in a conviction, then you may be eligible for the automatic sealing. Additionally, summary convictions are eligible after 5 years from the date of the conviction.


For convictions that are not eligible for expungement or limited access order, the only way to remove the crime from a criminal history record is to first obtain a pardon. A pardon is an official act of mercy taken by the Governor of Pennsylvania upon the recommendation of the PA Board of Pardons.  A pardon completely frees an individual from the control of the state, exempting an individual from further punishment and relieving an individual from all the legal disabilities resulting from a conviction.

If a pardon is granted, the record can then be expunged. Consideration of a pardon application may take several years and require that the applicant demonstrate years of living a productive, law-abiding life before starting the application process.

Centre County's Pardon Project offers free pardon coaches to help individuals navigate the pardon process.

Requesting an Expungement, Limited Access Order, or Pardon

To obtain an expungement or limited access order, you must petition for the relief in the court of common pleas for the county in which you were cited or arrested. The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts has blank forms available

To request a pardon for state convictions, follow the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons process. For federal criminal convictions, follow the U.S. Department of Justice process.

No legal advice is provided on this website. Every case is different. For advice about your specific situation, please complete our intake form to request an appointment with an attorney.

Reviewed: April 19, 2024