A person earns a criminal record in Pennsylvania the first time they are arrested and fingerprinted in the state. Local law enforcement agencies and courts forward all criminal history data to the Pennsylvania State Police, which maintains the state’s Central Repository of criminal history record information (CHRI).
Compared to other states, performing a criminal record check in Pennsylvania is an easy process. The state’s Criminal History Information Act directs the Pennsylvania State Police to release CHRI to nearly everyone upon request, although certain information is removed from an individual’s record before it is disseminated to the requestor if the requestor is a non-criminal justice agency or individual.
What is a criminal record?
A criminal record is an official document detailing a person’s criminal convictions, pending criminal cases, prior arrests, and other interactions with law enforcement agencies. Additional names for a criminal record include criminal history record, rap sheet, and a police record.
As with marriage records and court records, criminal records are generally public records in the United States and can be accessed through a criminal background check. However, public access to specific criminal record information varies from state to state.
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, criminal record checks can be performed using the Pennsylvania State Police’s Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History (PATCH) website.
What is included in a Pennsylvania criminal record?
As criminal records are kept by law enforcement agencies at all levels of government in the United States, a Pennsylvania criminal record may vary in format and content depending on the law enforcement database from which it is accessed.
Generally, a Pennsylvania criminal record will include the following information:
- A person’s full name and possible aliases
- Personal information such as age, date of birth, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, and other physical characteristics
- Fingerprints and mugshot
- Misdemeanor criminal offenses and convictions
- Felony criminal offenses and convictions
- Past and outstanding arrest warrants
- Pending and dismissed charges
However, before a person’s criminal history record information is released to a non-criminal justice agency or individual through the PATCH system, the following information will be withheld:
- Arrests where no conviction occurred
- Arrests made more than three years before the date of the criminal record request
- Charges where there are no pending conviction proceedings
Why would someone access a criminal record?
There are many reasons to access a criminal record.
- Most commonly, people search criminal records as a way to run a background check on a particular person.
- They’re also used by law enforcement to identify or locate people involved in unsolved crimes or by the court system to determine an appropriate sentence after a conviction.
- An individual may want to access his or her own record as well. It’s not uncommon for people to request their own criminal records to see what information is public.
- In some cases, a record could be inaccurate or include outdated information. If that’s the case, it’s important to have the record corrected.
What’s the difference between an infraction, misdemeanor, and felony?
Arrests and convictions listed on a criminal record are separated into three categories: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.
To give a better understanding of the information listed on a criminal record, here’s a quick overview of each category of offense:
- Infraction – An infraction is a minor violation of the law that is regulated at the state level. Punishment for an infraction is usually just a fine or a written warning, rather than a jail or prison sentence. Examples of infractions include minor traffic violations, public nuisance offenses, and littering.
- Misdemeanor – A misdemeanor is a crime that is more serious than an infraction, yet less serious than a felony. Generally, a misdemeanor punishable by a term of imprisonment of less than a year, or by a term of probation. An individual convicted of a misdemeanor is more likely to serve time in a county or local jail than in a federal or state prison. Examples of misdemeanors include driving under the influence, most drug abuse violations, and petty theft.
- Felony – A felony is the most serious type of crime, often characterized by the use of a weapon during a crime, serious injury to a victim, and/or holding a person against their will. Felony convictions typically result in a term of imprisonment of more than one year in a state or federal prison. Examples of felonies include rape, murder, and grand theft.
What is the difference between a Pennsylvania arrest record and a Pennsylvania criminal record?
While an arrest record is an official document including the details of a specific arrest, a criminal record is a more comprehensive document that includes a person’s entire criminal background known to law enforcement agencies.
How do I request a Pennsylvania criminal record?
A person can do a name-based criminal history record search to view one’s own Pennsylvania criminal record or the criminal record of another individual using the fee-based online criminal record search service known as Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History (PATCH).
Here’s an overview of PATCH:
- A single name-based search costs $22, which is payable by debit or credit card. Searches are non-refundable.
- Registration is not necessary in order to use the PATCH system.
- The criminal history record information disseminated through PATCH is limited (see the “What’s Included in a Pennsylvania Criminal Record?” section above for more information about what is not included in a PATCH report).
- Following a PATCH search, a user will receive one of three responses: “Pending”, “No Record”, or “Request Under Review”. The PSP states that 85% of PATCH requests yield a “No Record” response. A “Request Under Review” response does not necessarily mean that the subject of the request has a criminal record in Pennsylvania.
Requesting an INDIVIDUAL ACCESS AND REVIEW in Pennsylvania
A person may submit an Individual Access and Review request to the PSP in order to receive a complete copy of their own Pennsylvania criminal record, including information left out of a PATCH response. However, it cannot be used to request someone else’s criminal record. Requesting an Individual Access and Review is typically a necessary step for challenging a criminal record or filing a petition for expungement in the state.
How to request an INDIVIDUAL ACCESS AND REVIEW:
- Complete a Form SP4-170.
- Prepare a $20 money order payable to “Commonwealth of PA”
- Make a photocopy of a government-issued photo ID with your current address listed.
- Mail the form, money order, and photocopy of ID to the address listed on the form.
How do I obtain a physical copy of a Pennsylvania criminal record?
Those that submit an Individual Access and Review request will have a physical copy of their Pennsylvania criminal record mailed to their address if a criminal record exists in their name. However, criminal record requests made using PATCH will only return electronic copies of criminal records, and it is the requestor’s responsibility to print out a physical copy.
Why can’t I access a Pennsylvania criminal record?
If a request to view a criminal record using PATCH yields a “No Record” response, it means that there either is no criminal record under the individual’s name in Pennsylvania or the individual’s criminal record has been expunged or sealed from public view.
How do I search for Pennsylvania criminal case court records?
The general public may access and view most Pennsylvania criminal case dispositions using the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania Web Portal: Case Information website. The information can be found under “Public Web Docket Sheets”.
Does Pennsylvania allow criminal records to be sealed or expunged?
Under Pennsylvania state law, certain arrests and convictions on a criminal record may be eligible for expungement. Generally, a petition for expungement is made to the Clerk of Courts in the county where the arrest occurred.
The PSP recommends that individuals that wish to have parts of their Pennsylvania criminal history record expunged contact their County Court and ask if an Individual Access and Review is necessary.
How can I have false information on a Pennsylvania criminal record corrected?
Those that wish to challenge information on their Pennsylvania criminal record must first request an Individual Access and Review by submitting Form SP4-170 (the process is outlined in the “How do I request a Pennsylvania Criminal Record” section above”).
A challenge form will be mailed to you along with a complete copy of the criminal record. Then, you have 30 days to complete the challenge form and submit it to the Central Repository of Criminal History Information. If the subject of the challenge is an incorrectly attributed arrest, a fingerprint comparison is required.
How long are Pennsylvania criminal records kept on file?
Unless a successful petition to expunge is made, Pennsylvania criminal history information will be maintained on file indefinitely. However, after a certain time period, certain arrests and convictions will no longer be viewable to the general public.