For more than a decade, Tyeisha, 32, of Norristown, has been dogged by her criminal record — the last remaining scars from when a coworker attacked her on the job and both women were charged with assault.
Now, she’ll finally have the chance to close that chapter, thanks to Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law, which passed out of the General Assembly in June.
The first phase of the law — allowing for sealing of offenses including certain misdemeanors, such as simple assault, for those who’ve stayed out of trouble for at least a decade — went into effect Wednesday. The next phase, which will automatically seal some lower-level criminal records, is to begin June 28.
Sharon Dietrich, litigation director at Community Legal Services, said she’s been flooded with phone calls from people desperate for this relief.
“For people with simple assaults, it’s really important, because when you’ve got an assault on your record that often brands somebody as a violent person and unfortunately what it may represent is they had one very bad night, they got into a fight at a bar,” she said. “To get that off their record is probably one of the most powerful things that our sealing law will allow.”
Offenses newly eligible for sealing will include intoxicated driving and some theft and drug crimes. CLS is organizing volunteer lawyers to help screen what it expects will be thousands of eligible individuals and has posted an online form to process requests for assistance.
When the rollout of Clean Slate is complete, all arrests not resulting in convictions will be sealed automatically a month after the case is disposed.
Tyeisha, who asked to be identified by first name only as she’s seeking to clear her name, said her assault conviction stemmed from an incident at a dollar store where she was working to help pay her way through college. She’d quit the job, but the manager hadn’t told a coworker, who was so angry that she had to cover Tyeisha’s shift that she started a fight when Tyeisha stopped by to return the keys.
Since then, she said, the conviction has infected every aspect of her life, the one thing she can never outwork or outrun.
“I have a bachelor’s degree. I’m married — I’ll be with my husband for 11 years — and I have three kids. I got bills, and I got student loans, and I have a hard time with a job. Every time I apply, they tell me either I’m overqualified or I can’t get it because of my background," she said.
She’s had offers in visual merchandising, the career she studied for in college, ripped away after background checks, and has also been barred from gig work with Uber and Amazon because of her record, she said. Similarly, her hopes of leasing a house for her family in a good school district have been dashed by landlords who cited her record as a barrier.
“You’re stopping me from getting a job and now even dictating which area I can live in," she said.
The “clean slate” she’ll receive is not a perfect one: For now, the FBI does not honor Pennsylvania sealing orders, so those who undergo federal background checks could still be flagged, Dietrich said. That can be a problem for school-district employees and casino workers, among others.
Such convictions can be completely expunged only by a pardon, a process that takes at least two years and requires a recommendation by the Board of Pardons followed by approval from the governor.
Tyeisha filed a petition for a pardon a few years ago — and she’s still waiting. A petition to seal a record filed in Common Pleas Court is typically heard in about a month.