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Pennsylvania Arrest Records

Pennsylvania arrest records are reports produced by a law enforcement agency (like state police) following an individual’s arrest. They contain details of the criminal incident and the suspect’s personal information. In Pennsylvania, an individual may be apprehended while committing a crime, or arrested and interrogated on suspicion of criminal activity.

An arrest record is an important document in a criminal matter in Pennsylvania and may play a significant role in an upcoming trial. However, since not all arrests lead to criminal convictions, these records cannot be substituted for Pennsylvania criminal records. However, whether the accused person is guilty or not, the record remains part of a person’s public record unless it is sealed or expunged.

Pennsylvania Arrest Statistics

In Pennsylvania, the Attorney General’s Office manages criminal and other related data. Pennsylvania uses the Uniform Crime Reporting System, and the Pennsylvania State Police compiles detailed data on crimes, offenders, victims, etc. The Attorney General’s office last reported UCR arrest data in 2018, recording a total of 355,138 arrests, slightly lower than 2017 figures, which were 381,118 arrests.

The Federal Bureau of Information (FBI) provides a current analysis of crime and arrest via its crime data explorer tool. It derives arrest statistics for Pennsylvania from data submitted through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) and Summary Reporting System (SRS). In 2020, 102 of the 1,504 law enforcement agencies in the state submitted 12 months’ worth of arrest data. A breakdown reveals that there were 1562 male and 662 female arrests in Pennsylvania in 2020.

What is a Pennsylvania Arrest Record?

In Pennsylvania, law enforcement agencies have the right to arrest persons that commit offenses and violations against the Pennsylvania Statutes. After an officer takes the suspect into custody, the officer must book the person and record relevant details in a report. The report carries details about the person’s booking and detention, particulars of the crime, and circumstances surrounding the arrest.

What is Contained in an Arrest Record?

An arrest record in Pennsylvania is a detailed account of a person’s apprehension by law enforcement, and it contains the following information:

  • A Description of the Suspect: An arrest record in Pennsylvania describes the suspect’s height, hair color, weight, and race. It also includes other unique features of the suspect, like tattoos, birthmarks, or scars.
  • A Description of the Incident: A standard Pennsylvania arrest record describes the alleged crime based on victim or witness statements.
  • The Personal Data of the Suspect: Arrest records in Pennsylvania document the suspect’s name, age, date of birth, address, and phone number. An interested person may find other personal information in an arrest record like the offender’s Social Security Number (SSN), alias(es), and contact information.
  • Crime Classification: An arrest record in Pennsylvania generally specifies the category or crime classification, whether it is a minor violation or infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony.
  • Interrogation & Booking Information: Pennsylvania arrest records contain the date and location of the arrest, fingerprints, charges filed, photographs, and bail amount (if any). It also provides court dates, details of the police interrogation, and the type of charge filed against the offender.

Are Arrest Records Public in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, there is a Right to Know Law that grants interested persons to all public records, including arrest records. The law mandates all government agencies in the state to respond positively to all requests for public records unless there is a good reason not to. An interested person may make an application requesting to obtain arrest records from the arresting agency, which is often the local police department or sheriff’s office. Suppose more than one law enforcement agency made the arrest. In that case, requests for access to the arrest records will go to the law enforcement agency that has custody of the offender.

Who Can Access Pennsylvania Arrest Records?

The person named in a Pennsylvania arrest record may need access to it for various reasons. Many jobs these days require a criminal record check, especially those that involve public welfare or transportation. Also, a person may need these arrest records for adoptions, visas, and other foreign obligations. Pennsylvania laws allow citizens the right to such records. A person’s potential employer or landlord may also demand to see a person’s criminal history record.

Other interested parties are a legal representative, victim, witness, or insurance company. While arrest records are public information in Pennsylvania, there are certain situations where law enforcement may deny individuals access to a person’s arrest record. These situations are when the record is sealed, part of an ongoing criminal investigation, or threatens public safety or peace.

How Do I Lookup Someone’s Arrest Records in Pennsylvania?

One way to find a person’s arrest record in Pennsylvania is through the Pennsylvania Access To Criminal History (PATCH). The modernized digital system for criminal records in Pennsylvania allows easy access for citizens and law enforcement agencies to request a person’s full criminal history. To initiate a PATCH request, the interested person must first create an account on the PATCH website.

The purpose of the account is to store basic information on the account holder, like the person’s name, address, and past criminal history requests. After creating an account, the search has to fill the provided forms to enable a full background search. Next, provide a full name, address, social security number, past names, and addresses. It is also necessary to enter a credit card number to pay for the search expenses, which start from $10, depending on the depth of the search. After entering the search fields, an automated system will search.

Another way to look up arrest records in Pennsylvania is by requesting a criminal history record. Interested persons may file using a paper application by completing a form and mailing a copy, alongside a $10 check to the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository - 164, 1800 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9758. The searcher will receive a copy of the search results within three weeks by return mail. Alternatively, interested persons may go to the courts where those records were initiated to search and obtain the records from the court clerk.

How to Subpoena Arrest Records in Pennsylvania

Police records are public information in Pennsylvania, and sometimes these records may be restricted. Pennsylvania has a ‘Right to Know Law’ that allows individuals to request records from the state’s police department. The subpoena request must be in writing, and identify the necessary records and provide a name and address for the department to send a reply.

The requester may fill either the Pennsylvania State Police Right to Know Law Request Form or the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records - Right-to-Know Uniform Request Form. Then, address the request to the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Records & Identification, ATTN: Agency Open Records Officer, Mr. William Rozier, 1800 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110. Searchers may also send requests via email at RA-psprighttoknow@pa.gov, Phone: (877) 785-7771, or fax on Fax: (717) 525-5795

Interested persons may send requests during regular business hours of 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., Monday through Friday (except holidays and official office closings). Alternatively, an interested person may request a subpoena order from the court, requesting certain documents or the presence of an officer in court. A valid subpoena order must be executed in the name of the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, Custodian of Records. It may then be mailed or hand-delivered to 1800 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9758.

How to Search for an Inmate in the Pennsylvania Prison System

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has an Inmate/Parolee Locator database that contains information on all inmates in the state’s prison system. Interested persons may find current prisoners or persons out on parole using this search tool. To find an inmate or parolee in the system, the interested person must provide a first, middle, and last name and inmate or parole number.

Other relevant details are the gender, race/ethnicity, committing county, current location, and the person’s citizenship status. The searcher may also provide either a date of birth or approximate age to facilitate the search. After providing all these details, click ‘search’ to view the details of prisoners that match the entered details. The DOC updates prisoner information daily to make sure it is as complete and accurate as possible.

How Do I Find Out if Someone Was in Jail in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania DOC inmate locator tool only provides information on current inmates or persons out on parole. It does not keep tabs on past prisoners who have left the Pennsylvania prison system. Any individual trying to find out if someone was in jail in Pennsylvania will have to visit the courthouses and inspect court records to see if the person has a conviction that resulted in jail time.

How Long Do Pennsylvania Arrest Records Stay on File?

There is no provision for how long an arrest record in Pennsylvania can stay on file. Since an arrest record is a public record, they generally stay on file until the record is expunged or sealed. In Pennsylvania, an arrest record can be wiped off a person’s record after time has passed and no charges have come up.

What is the Difference Between an Arrest Record and an Arrest Warrant?

An arrest warrant in Pennsylvania is an order from a court in the state that gives law enforcement agencies the power to arrest a person suspected of criminal activity. Ordinarily, police officers and other law enforcement agents can carry out an arrest based on reasonable suspicion or if an officer was at the scene of the crime. However, any other circumstance outside this requires the arresting officer to have a warrant or illegal arrest.

An arrest record does not require as much protocol, as an officer does not need permission to write one. While an arrest warrant needs a reasonable cause and a sworn affidavit from a police officer or local sheriff, an arresting officer may make an arrest record once a suspect is in custody, whether the person is guilty or not. An arrest warrant may expire if not used within a certain period, but an arrest record may stay on file for the duration of a person’s life unless it is expunged or sealed.

What is the Difference Between an Arrest Record and a Criminal Record?

It is very common for people to refer to an arrest record as a criminal record. While the records appear similar and their functions overlap, there are significant differences between them. In Pennsylvania, a criminal record is an official report detailing all a person’s criminal activities, while an arrest record provides information on one criminal offense. A criminal record contains a suspect’s conviction information, sentences, and warrants (if any).

Another major difference between an arrest record and a criminal record is that an arrest record comes up immediately after a person’s arrest. In contrast, a criminal record arises only after a court convicts and sentences an offender for a crime. So, a person cannot have a criminal record without committing a crime. Yet, a person can get an arrest record even if the court later finds the person not guilty of the offense.

How to Obtain Arrest Records for Free in Pennsylvania?

To get arrest records for free in Pennsylvania, interested persons may visit the local police department that carried out the arrest. Yet, the agency may require the payment of a small fee to reproduce the document on request and cover the cost of copying and authentication. Alternatively, an individual may use online services that allow free access to arrest records in the state. The only drawback is that these third-party online search services are not affiliated with Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies. So, there is no way to guarantee that an individual may get correct information off these sites.

How to Search for a Pennsylvania Arrest Record Online Using a Third-Party Search Service

Tracking physical copies of arrest records in Pennsylvania can sometimes prove challenging. Many online search platforms allow individuals to search Pennsylvania arrest records from various government agency databases for free or for a small fee. As a result, carrying out an online search via third-party search services is viable for most persons.

The interested searcher has to enter a preferred search service website in a web browser to use this service. Next, provide the required fields to aid the search provider in pulling out correct details, like the offender’s name and identification number, and click the search bar. Usually, searchers may have to pay a fee to obtain Pennsylvania arrest records from an online search service. However, it is a convenient way of getting these records without going through the long processing times and inconsistent service of government offices.

What Can I Do if My Arrest Record Has a Mistake?

Suppose a person’s arrest or criminal record has an error in Pennsylvania. In that case, it is up to the person to bring it to the notice of the relevant law enforcement agency that carried out the arrest, or the court, to get it fixed. First, the person must send a mail requesting a hard copy of Form SP4-170 (Individual Access and Review) to the Bureau of Records and Identification, 1800 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110. Upon receiving the request, the Bureau will send a complete copy of the person’s criminal record and a challenge form by return mail.

The applicant is then expected to fill the form and mail it back to the Bureau within thirty days of receiving it. After this, the applicant must wait for an official response regarding the error. Suppose the error involves false or incorrect identification. In that case, the applicant may submit fingerprints to correct the mistake. If the agency responsible discovers the error, it has fifteen days to correct it and submit the corrected records to the criminal records system and all relevant parties that received the wrong one.

How to Expunge Arrest Records in Pennsylvania

If a person has an arrest record in Pennsylvania, it can cause serious problems that may last a lifetime. Since it comes up in background checks, it may be difficult to get a good job or an apartment. The only way to prevent this is to seal or expunge the record. An expungement is a procedure that removes criminal information on a person from law enforcement records or any other official database.

So, if the affected person applies for a job or apartment that requires a criminal background check, the record will no longer show up. The expungement process in Pennsylvania is not automatic, and the person must apply for it. However, before making an application, the person must first qualify for an expungement. § 9122 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes provides for certain circumstances that may qualify a person to apply for a criminal history record expungement:

  • If, after 18 months of the arrest, and there is no pending action before the court, a person may start the expungement process.
  • Suppose there is a court order for the expungement of non-conviction data. In that case, the interested person may get a criminal history record expungement.
  • Suppose the offender was below 18 at the time of the offense and petitions the court upon reaching 21 or older, seeking an expungement. In such a case, the court will review the petition and order the expungement of all criminal history record information and administrative information related to the particular conviction.
  • If a judicial order declares a person acquitted of an offense, the court will expunge all criminal records related to that offense. However, it does not apply to a partial acquittal, and the court must make the notice of acquittal in writing.
  • If the person named in the record lives up to 70 years and remains arrest or prosecution free for ten years after release from confinement or supervision, the court may grant the expungement order.
  • Suppose the offender has been dead for at least three years. In that case, the court may allow for the person’s criminal history record to be expunged.
  • If it is a summary offense, and the individual petitions the court for an expungement, the court may allow it, provided the person has been free of arrest and prosecution for five years after the conviction.

Pennsylvania courts have no authority to order the expungement of a person’s record if the person was placed on Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) for sexual offenses like rape, sexual assault, indecent exposure, and the victim was below 18. Interested persons may also view a full list of ineligible offenses on the Pennsylvania courts website. Any person that qualifies for criminal expungement in Pennsylvania may start the process by following these steps:

  • The applicant must fill out and print Form SP 4-170 ( Request for Individual Access and Review).
  • Next, the person should mail the completed form to the Central Repository address listed on the form.

The applicant must also attach the following to the completed form:

  • A certified check or money order of $20, payable to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • One copy of a government-issued photo ID
  • A letter of representation or legal affidavit, if it applies

After submitting the completed application, the applicant will receive a mail from the Central Repository containing the person’s full arrest record. The person may then review the record and follow up with the Clerk of Courts in the county of arrest for more instructions on how to proceed with petitioning the court for expungement. Once the court agrees with the petition, it will issue an order for expungement. Once the Pennsylvania State Police receives the court order signed by a Commonwealth judge, the record will be expunged.

In 2018, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a first-of-its-kind ‘clean slate bill’ in the state. The new law allows for the automatic sealing of minor, non-violent cases from public records if time passes and there is no felony or misdemeanor conviction. It shields arrest records and minor criminal history records from public viewing to prevent the discrimination of persons with low-level criminal convictions. The law started operating in 2019, and for a person to be eligible, the person must meet the following requirements:

  • The person’s arrest record must not have resulted in charges.
  • Suppose the arrest record led to criminal charges. Then, the charges must be dismissed, or the court must have acquitted the person for such a person to qualify.

A person with non-traffic citations or 2nd and 3rd-degree misdemeanors punishable by two years or less in prison is also eligible for a clean slate. However, the person must have paid all fines and probation supervision fees and stayed away from new charges for ten years after the conviction. After the clean slate law seals a person’s record, only law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and employers who submit an FBI background check or have permission to view criminal records under federal law may access the records. As this is a new law, and the courts are dealing with a backlog of automatic sealing cases, some can go unnoticed. If a person’s record is not sealed due to this backlog, or some other error, the person may file an Act 5 petition for limited access to notify the courts of the error.