The Mazza Law Group, P.C.
2790 W. College Ave., Suite 800
State College, PA 16801 March 10, 2016
(814) 237-6255

Procedure for Mental Health Commitment Expungements Clarified

For individuals who have been subjected to an involuntary mental health commitment under the Mental Health Procedures Act, there may be collateral consequences of that commitment.  First of all, such a commitment prevents an individual from possession of or purchase of a firearm.  Secondly, the record may become available in the even the individual applies for a security clearance or certain professional licenses and other types of employment.

There is a process by which an involuntary mental health commitment can be expunged.  An individual may petition for expungement of the records of the commitment by filing a petition to ask the court to review the sufficiency of the evidence upon which the commitment was based.  If the evidence is sufficient, the commitment records provided to the Pennsylvania State Police shall be expunged.

While the law provided for such an expungement proceeding, courts and practitioners were left with questions as to how the law would be applied and how the court would determine the sufficiency of the evidence.  In the matter of In re Vencil, decided January 19, 2017, the petitioner requested expungement of a mental health commitment.  The trial court denied the petition, but the Superior Court held that Ms. Vencil was entitled to a de novo hearing, and that clear and convincing evidence to support the commitment must be presented.

The Pennsylvania State Police appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which reversed the Superior Court and clarified the legal standard for an expungement, by stating:

“The trial court’s review is limited to the findings recorded by the physician and the information he or she relied upon in arriving at those findings, and requires deference to the physician, as the original factfinder, as the physician examined and evaluated the individual in the first instance, was able to observe his or her demeanor, and has particularized training, knowledge and experience regarding whether a 302 commitment is medically necessary.”

This standard seems to limit the review to whether the physician’s decision was reasonable based on the information available to the physician at the time of the examination, and does not seem to allow for extrinsic evidence to be considered.

However, there may be relief available to an individual who is precluded from possession of a firearm in the form of a petition to restore firearm rights, which may be granted if the individual can prove to the court he or she may possess a firearm without risk to self or others.

If you or a love one have been the subject of an involuntary commitment, you may have a question about your rights and whether the records can be expunged.  Contact an experienced attorney at the Mazza Law Group, who will discuss your case confidentially to determine whether you may be entitled to some relief.

Will my juvenile record be automatically expunged?

Many people have the mistaken belief that their juvenile record is expunged when they reach the age of 18.  While juvenile records are not available to the general public, your record is not automatically wiped clean at the age of 18, and records of charges, adjudications and dispositions can be maintained and viewed by law enforcement, court officials, and others with authorization.  Therefore, you may want to apply for an expungement of your juvenile record if eligible.

What is an expungement?  If granted by the court, it means that the records related to the charges will be destroyed and your record would be cleared.  This can include police reports, charging documents, and the probation department’s file.  Essentially, there would be no permanent record that you had been to court or that you had even been charged in the case.  This can be vitally important as you apply for college admission, student loans, enlistment in the military, a professional license, or employment.

If you have been to court on a juvenile delinquency matter in Pennsylvania, you may be eligible to have the juvenile records of the charges, arrest and court disposition expunged.  The answer to the question of whether you are entitled to an expungement, and when you may receive it, will depend on the disposition of any juvenile charges that were brought against you.[1]

Juvenile Record

If the charges resulted in an Informal Adjustment, you are eligible to apply for an expungement six months after successful completion of the conditions of the agreement, as long as you have no juvenile or adult charges pending.

If the charges resulted in a Consent Decree, you are eligible to apply for an expungement six months following final discharge from the program, as long as you have no juvenile or adult charges pending.

If the charges resulted in a Conviction for a Summary Offense (other than underage drinking), you are eligible to apply for an expungement upon reaching the age of 18, if at least six months have passed since you completed the terms and conditions of the sentence you received.  You must also have no juvenile record adjudications or adult convictions, and must not have any pending charges.

If the charges resulted in a Conviction for Underage Drinking, you are entitled to apply for an expungement upon reaching the age of 18, if at least six months have passed since you completed the terms and conditions of the sentence you received, including the resulting license suspension.  Your expungement would include criminal history information and the PaDOT record of your suspension.

If the charges resulted in an Adjudication of Delinquency for an offense which would be classified as a crime if committed by an adult[2], you are entitled to apply for an expungement five years after the final discharge from any disposition of your charges, as long as you have had no further adjudications or convictions, and no charges are pending.

Finally, even if you are not otherwise eligible for an expungement of your juvenile record, the District Attorney in the county of your adjudication could consent to an expungement, subject to the court’s consideration.

It is definitely in your best interest to obtain an expungement if you are entitled to one.  The experienced criminal attorneys at the Mazza Law Group can help you determine if you are eligible to have your juvenile record expunged. We can start the process for you right away.  Don’t wait until you are applying for a job or a student loan, call now!

[1] 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9123

[2] Some sex offenses are not eligible for expungement if they were committed after the age of fourteen.

Limited Access to Misdemeanors

UPDATE: On February 16, Governor Wolf signed a law granting limited access to misdemeanors, which will take effect in 270 days.  Those who are eligible, and obtain who obtain relief under this law will be able to avoid the impediments to employment and housing.     This new law will allow eligible individuals to petition the court to seal their criminal history from the public.

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