What is a Pennsylvania Criminal Record?
Criminal records in Pennsylvania are official documents that contain the details of the criminal activity of a person. Colloquially known as a rap sheet, these records are the official government depository of the arrest, indictment, pending and past dispositions, and conviction information for a person who has entered the legal system as a convicted or suspected criminal. These records are kept at every level of every Pennsylvania jurisdiction—albeit with varying levels of effectiveness— from municipal, county, and state levels. This means they are gathered from all types of criminal courts across the state and the country.
Pennsylvania criminal records contain:
- The name of the subject
- Their birth date, last known height and weight, and race
- A mugshot, fingerprints, and other gathered physical identifiers
- All previous and current indictments
- Arrest records and outstanding warrants
- Conviction information
- Post-conviction status
Are Criminal Records Public in Pennsylvania?
Yes. Criminal records in Pennsylvania are open to the public under the Right To Know Law. The Pennsylvania State Police is the record custodian of these records, and public requests to view and obtain criminal records go to this agency. Interested persons may obtain Pennsylvania criminal records in one of three ways viz-a-viz online search, in-person requests, and mail requests.
Criminal records, considered public in the United States, are made available through some third-party aggregate sites. Searching with third-party websites is often easier as the information is not limited to geographic record availability. Information found on third-party websites can serve as a jumping off point for parties searching for a specific record or multiple records. Typically, requesters must provide the following information to gain access to these records:
- The record subject’s name, unless the subject is a juvenile.
- The record subjects’ last known location, including cities, counties, and states.
Third-party websites offer these search services, but they are not government sponsored. Availability of records may vary.
How to Obtain Criminal Records in Pennsylvania?
The Pennsylvania State Police maintains a public access portal for interested persons to perform a criminal record search. Each name-based search on the online portal costs a non-refundable fee of $22.00. A credit card payment validates a search request, and the requester can expect to see the search results within 24 hours.
Besides online search, there are two other ways to obtain criminal records in Pennsylvania. Interested requesters must complete a request form and submit it in person or send it via US mail. If submitting via mail, the requester must attach a check or money order for the $22.00 search fee. Then, the requester must enclose the documents in a self-addressed stamped envelope and mail them to the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository.
Pennsylvania State Police
Central Repository – 164
1800 Elmerton Avenue Harrisburg
Phone: (888) 783-7972 (Help Desk)
Free public criminal records check in Pennsylvania is possible. One way to do this is to request a fee waiver directly from the record custodian. The Pennsylvania State Police may grant the waiver request if releasing the document serves the public’s interest. Otherwise, the requester may have to search databases that offer free criminal records. However, there is no guarantee that the criminal record obtained via this means is complete or accurate.
What are Arrest Records in Pennsylvania?
Arrest records are part of the criminal record that provides information on a suspect's apprehension by law enforcement officers. These records contain details on how and when the suspect was arrested, why they were arrested, where they were detained, and often who arrested them. It is important to note that these records may not always serve as a criminal record for the simple fact that innocent people are, on occasion, arrested erroneously. In some cases, a suspect that goes to trial may not be convicted, meaning that their arrest did not result in a criminal record. When a person is arrested, the following information is typically collected.
- The name, birth date, gender, hair color, height, weight, and other physical features
- The date and place of the arrest
- The name of the arresting officer
- The address and name of the detention center or jail
- The name of the issuer of the arrest warrant
Generally, persons who wish to obtain public arrest records often pay the nominal cost of copying the documents. Some police departments may grant fee waiver requests, especially in cases where releasing the police record serves the public’s interest. In such cases, the requester may obtain the arrest record for free. Meanwhile, there are very few databases that offer free arrest records. Even at that, the completeness and authenticity of such free records are questionable.
Are Arrest Records Public in Pennsylvania?
Yes. Pennsylvania arrest records are public records under the Right To Know Law. Interested persons who wish to obtain arrest records must submit a request to the arresting agency. In a county, this would be the Sheriff’s Office or the local police department. Suppose two or more agencies made the arrest. Then, requests for arrest records would go to the law enforcement agency that has custody of the arrestee.
However, note that the arresting agency may not release the arrest record under specific circumstances. For instance, suppose releasing the arrest record will sabotage an active criminal investigation. Law enforcement may withhold the arrest record until the investigation is over. The same applies to when releasing the arrest record sabotages the safety of an officer or a civilian.
What is an Arrest Warrant in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania arrest warrants are issued by court officials and provide law enforcement with the ability to make an arrest of a person. Normally, agents of law enforcement can make an arrest if they witness a crime or have a reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a crime, but outside of these circumstances, an arrest warrant is needed. These documents are drafted following a sworn affidavit of a policeman, sheriff, or district attorney. Then a judge or court magistrate will provide authorization for a search or seizure of private property. Arrest warrants are signed and issued by judges or court magistrates on behalf of local or state jurisdictions. Most warrants are only valid for a specified period of time unless otherwise indicated.
Arrest warrants in Pennsylvania contain:
- The details of an alleged criminal offense
- The personal information of the suspect named in the warrant
- The time and place where the arrest may take place
- An expiration date if one exists
- The date at which the warrant was issued, as well as the name of the issuer
- Bail and bond conditions, if they exist
To obtain a copy of the warrant, the requester must visit the law enforcement agency authorized to execute the arrest warrant—usually the sheriff’s office or the local police department. Generally, the agency would require the subject’s name to perform an active warrant search and provide the requester with a copy of the document. Providing other specific information, like the subject’s address, helps make the warrant search faster.
What are Inmate Records in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania Inmate records are documents that contain information on the convicted criminals that have punishments of jail time. They document the various internment facilities that house these inmates, as well as specific information on the inmates themselves. They are created and maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and members of the public can perform an inmate search on the inmate lookup database. Information in these records include:
- The full name and any known aliases of the inmate
- Details on the convicted offense
- Personal data on the inmate including their birth date, gender, height, weight, and more
- Documented identification information such as fingerprints and a mugshot
- The date of incarceration and the expected date of release
- The location and security level of the facility where they are housed
- Past convictions and sentences served
- Bail and bond conditions, if any
What is the Pennsylvania Sex Offender Registry?
Pennsylvania holds online sex offender registries of people who are convicted of crimes that are of a sexual nature. These lists were developed after Megan’s Law was introduced as nationwide legislation. The purpose of these lists is to aid local residents in being able to identify Pennsylvania sex offenders or be notified when a sex offender is nearby. The lists feature the names, addresses, and crimes of such offenders.
Sex offender registries in Pennsylvania offer electronic notifications to interested citizens. This system allows a user to receive notification by email when a registered sex offender changes residence, employment, or school district to a designated radius of the user’s address. They also offer tools to track a specific sex offender.
What is a DUI in Pennsylvania?
A DUI in Pennsylvania is a serious traffic violation where an individual operates or drives a motor vehicle after alcohol or a substance renders them unfit. When a police officer performs a routine traffic stop or suspects a driver to be impaired, the officer shall administer a field sobriety test or chemical test. These tests help determine the level of impairment, particularly the blood alcohol content (BAC) in the driver. Pennsylvania sets the minimum tolerable limit for BAC at 0.08, as measured in the driver’s breath or blood. At—and above—this legal threshold, the driver will face DUI charges.
Generally, an impaired driver loses driving privileges on the spot, pending a court hearing and administrative review by the Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division (DMV). Following a hearing, the court shall suspend the impaired driver’s license. Depending on the defense, the court may sentence the impaired driver to jail or impose other sentencing alternatives like fines and community service. Furthermore, the court may also compel the driver to install an ignition interlock, complete a driver’s education program, or the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. Although Pennsylvania does not assign penalty points for drunk driving, the conviction remains on the individual’s driving record for life.
What are Misdemeanors in Pennsylvania?
Misdemeanors in Pennsylvania refer to relatively minor criminal offenses. The state organizes misdemeanors into three categories known as first, second, and third-degree. First-degree is the most serious type of misdemeanor, while third-degree is the most minor. The more serious the misdemeanor, the harsher the penalties.
- First-degree misdemeanors have a maximum fine of $10,000 in Pennsylvania. The maximum jail time is five (5) years. Common first-degree misdemeanors include simple assault, terroristic threats, stalking, theft of more than $200 but less than $2,000, and multiple DUI offenses.
- Second-degree misdemeanors have a maximum fine of $5,000 in Pennsylvania. The maximum jail time is two (2) years. Common second-degree misdemeanors include bigamy, shoplifting, strangulation, and theft of at least $50 but less than $200.
- Third-degree misdemeanors have a maximum fine of $2,000 in Pennsylvania. The maximum jail time is one (1) year. Common second-degree misdemeanors include possession of marijuana, night prowling, and theft of up to $50.
What are Felonies in Pennsylvania?
A felony in Pennsylvania is considered a serious offense. These crimes carry penalties that almost always result in jail time, expensive fines, and additional punishments, including community service and mandatory sessions or classes. In extremely rare cases, felonies can result in the death penalty. Some Pennsylvania felonies are classified as ungraded felonies, which have penalties decided at the time of sentencing to reflect the seriousness or lack thereof of the crime.
Generally, there are three categories of felonies in Pennsylvania. These are first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree felonies. First-degree is the most serious, while third-degree is the least serious.
- First-degree felonies in Pennsylvania are punishable by at least ten years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. Common first-degree felonies include murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, rape, and theft of property worth $500,000 or more.
- Second-degree felonies in Pennsylvania are punishable by between 5 and 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. Common second-degree felonies include sexual assault, involuntary manslaughter that includes a victim under the age of 12, burglary, aggravated assault, and theft of over $100,000 but under $500,000.
- Third-degree felonies in Pennsylvania are punishable by between 3.5 and 7 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Common first-degree felonies bribery, possession of child pornography, possession of illegal narcotics with intent to distribute, and theft of property worth more than $2,000 but less than $100,000.
People convicted of felonies are barred from certain rights, which often include the freedom to perform certain activities and processes. People with a felony on their record cannot:
- Run for public office
- Own or possess a firearm providing their felony was a violent one
- Vote while serving prison time
- Serve on a jury
- Obtain financial aid for further education
- Get government benefits
Where to Obtain Parole Information in Pennsylvania
Parole is a term to reference the supervised freedom usually offered to convicted criminals after serving a certain amount of a jail sentence. This is usually offered to criminals as part of a plea deal or in exchange for good behavior while incarcerated. Parole is usually associated with felony crimes as felony crimes typically have jail time as a default punishment. The information on parole is handled by Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections, which also provides conditions of parole should it be granted to an inmate.
Probation is usually either supervised, unsupervised or intensive depending on the severity of the crime or the behavior of the inmate. Conditions may also change depending on these factors.
What are Probation Records in Pennsylvania?
Probation records in Pennsylvania are documents that indicate what parameters and restrictions were placed on a person who was granted limited freedom in exchange for serving no jail time. Probation is usually associated with misdemeanor charges but can, on occasion, be the result of a felony charge. Probation records detail the indictment and include the offense that the criminal was convicted of. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is responsible for managing individuals on probation.
Probation sentences often differ depending on a multitude of factors involved in sentencing. Because of this, individual experiences usually differ. The length and conditions of the probation depend largely on the criminal offense committed, as well as the conditions in which it was committed. Some probation sentences are strict and intensive in terms of supervision but most often are minimally supervised outside of periodic visits to police stations, sheriffs’ offices, third-party facilities, or others.
What are Juvenile Criminal Records in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania juvenile records refer to the documents created when a person under the age of 18 commits a crime. These records report arrests, sentences, probation limitations, and adjudications of these individuals. It is common knowledge that these records are considered confidential, but one aspect that is often misrepresented is that these records are automatically expunged or sealed on the juvenile turning 18. This action is almost always required to be requested on behalf of the juvenile and is almost always granted to avoid tainting the person with a lifetime criminal record for mistakes committed in their youth. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections offers a FAQ on juvenile delinquency records and how to expunge them when applicable.
What are Conviction Records in Pennsylvania?
Conviction Records in Pennsylvania are official documents that are generated in the event of a criminal conviction. This includes when a person is found guilty, pleads guilty, or pleads nolo contendere in any civilian or military court. A conviction also occurs when a person is judged as a delinquent. These records indicate when a subject has been judged, what they were sentenced to, and often the details of their imprisonment, parole, or probation. They are often found online through the website of the court that performed the hearing or trial. These are technically classified as court records.
Pennsylvania History and Accuracy of Criminal Records
Technology has made record keeping much more accurate and easier to research, and criminal records are not an exception. Digitization of criminal records has allowed records to be kept safe long term and available to curious parties through the internet as well as in person. Still, record-keeping is largely variable between municipalities, as they rely on the policies and individuals present in that community.
Find Pennsylvania Criminal History Record for Free
A criminal history record contains information about a person's arrests, indictments, convictions, and other relevant criminal justice information.
Under the Pennsylvania Criminal History Information Act (18 Pa. C.S.A. §9101 et seq.), interested persons or agencies send online requests for criminal history records to the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) using the epatch portal. They can also complete a request form and submit it in person or via mail to the PSP.
Generally, requesters are liable for a non-refundable fee of $22 to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. However, certain entities can request a fee waiver to access Pennsylvania criminal records without paying a fee. Per 18 Pa. C.S.A. §9121, these parties include:
- An individual working as an unpaid volunteer with an affiliate of Big Brothers or Big Sisters of America.
- An individual working as an unpaid volunteer with a rape crisis center or domestic violence program.
- The Department of Human Services or a county children and youth agency (if the request pertains to a child or youth).
Qualified persons may submit their requests via the epatch portal or mail using SP4-164A (Request For Criminal Record Check, Volunteer Only Form).
Are Police Records Public in Pennsylvania?
Yes. Police records are public records in Pennsylvania and can be obtained by any United States resident. Police records are all documents developed or maintained by state/local law enforcement agencies in the execution of their duties. These records include arrest logs, incident/crime reports, coroner reports, conviction and non-conviction records, mugshots, traffic collision reports, audio and video recordings, investigation reports, complaints, crime statistics, and other related records.
Per Pennsylvania's Right-To-Know Law, individuals can access police records upon request. However, certain information or documents are exempt from public inspection. These exemptions are usually associated with security, confidentiality, and privacy issues. The following Pennsylvania police records are exempt from public access under Section 708:
- Personally identifiable information of record owners (including social security number, driver's license number, personal financial information, contact details, etc.)
- Identifying information about persons acting undercover or involved in covert law enforcement activities
- Information that jeopardizes the safety of a victim or witness
- Intelligence gathering and analysis, such as investigative notes, correspondence, videos, and reports
- Information that may deny a person a fair trial, hamper the police's ability to locate a defendant or codefendant, or prevent the police from securing an arrest, prosecution, or conviction
Generally, before denying a request to access police records, the law requires law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania to present proof that the requested information is exempt from public access.
The Right To Know Law does not apply to police video and audio recordings. Access to such recordings is regulated under Act 22 of 2017 (Chapter 67A).
How to Obtain Police Records in Pennsylvania
Individuals can obtain police records in Pennsylvania from the local or state law enforcement agency that holds the record. A requester may visit the police department during the recommended hours, call a designated phone number, forward a written request by mail, or use an online portal (if one is available) to submit a request.
Some Pennsylvania police departments may require requesters to complete a request form to obtain police records. For instance, to receive records from the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), requesting parties may fill out and submit a Right To Know request form or police recording request form, which are obtainable from the PSP's website. Individuals are advised to keep a personal copy of the request form should they need to file an appeal if the PSP denies the request.
Similarly, in Philadelphia, the city police department provides a police records check form for interested parties on its website.
Requesters may be asked to pay a fee to obtain a Pennsylvania police record.
Are Police Reports Public Records?
A police report outlines the facts, circumstances, timelines, and individuals (victims and witnesses) related to an incident. The report provides law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and the courts with a point of reference when investigating or prosecuting criminal/non-criminal incidents. It is also beneficial to victims and third parties who may need it for official purposes, such as filing insurance claims and conducting background checks.
In Pennsylvania, police reports may be filed for various purposes (including domestic disputes, traffic accidents, burglaries, home invasions, and theft). Types of police reports include:
- Arrest reports: DWI/DUI offenses, traffic violations, etc.
- Accident or crash reports: Reports on motor vehicle accidents, machinery accidents, workplace hazards, etc.
- Incident/crime reports: Reports on robbery, burglary, car-jacking, abduction, etc.
As with many documents produced and stored by public agencies in Pennsylvania, police reports are subject to the Right to Know Law of the Commonwealth. As a result, such records can be accessed by the public. However, when the disclosure of a police report may undermine an ongoing investigation or threaten the privacy or security of a victim or witness, the law enforcement agency reserves the right to deny the request.
How to File a Police Report with Pennsylvania Law Enforcement
To file a police report (otherwise known as "reporting a crime") in Pennsylvania, individuals can call or visit the police department serving the jurisdiction where the crime or incident occurred. However, some cities within the state provide online crime reporting options. For instance, the Bureau of Police in the City of Harrisburg has an online reporting system with which victims or witnesses of crimes can submit police reports remotely and print temporary copies for free.
Notwithstanding, not all crimes can be reported online in Pennsylvania. For example, emergency crimes (here, the civilian is advised to call 911), known thefts, and crimes occurring outside a police agency's jurisdiction cannot be reported online. Offenses filed online may include hit and run, theft, fraud, forgery, criminal mischief, property loss, harassment, and other non-emergency crimes.
Where to Find Free Public Police Records
The Pennsylvania Right To Know Law and Act 22 of 2017 empower residents of Pennsylvania to inspect public records for free, but only when they visit a law enforcement agency's records bureau during regular business hours. However, both statutes allow the police to charge reasonable fees when providing copies of records. For example, the Pennsylvania State Police charges $100 to obtain an audio or video recording.
Then again, interested persons may access free public police records in Pennsylvania via online public records databases provided by local police departments or independent third-party sites.
How to Find Mugshots in Pennsylvania
A mugshot is a close-up shot of a person (typically from the shoulders upward) taken by a law enforcement officer after a person has been arrested. Law enforcement officers use these photographic records to identify crime suspects.
Mugshots are considered public records under Pennsylvania's Right To Know Law. This means that residents can access mugshots in all 68 counties of Pennsylvania through local and state law enforcement agencies. For instance, an individual can search the inmate locator maintained by the state Department of Corrections for mugshots, or they can search inmate databases maintained locally by police departments. However, requesters usually need an inmate's name, number, or arrest date to access a database.
When a mugshot is not accessible online, the requester can mail in their request or stop by the agency to obtain the photograph.