The Pennsylvania Clean Slate Law may contain some who do not qualify

Millions of Pennsylvania criminal convictions are disappearing from public view because of what is known as the Clean Slate Law. The law aims to help people convicted of minor offenses get a second chance. But Action News Investigates learned that some people convicted of serious crimes – even murder – have also erased at least some of their records. Cases where at least some information was redacted include: Former Plum teachers Michael Cinefra and Jason Cooper, who pleaded guilty to allegedly having sex with students. Former State Assemblyman Marc Gergely who pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy and illegal campaign contributions. Brandon Noel, who pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in a shooting at the Monroeville Mall in 2019 Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz. The police reports detailing their crimes are sealed. State Assemblyman Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland County, helped draft the Clean Slate Law. Action News Investigates asked her about the Penn State cases. “It doesn’t seem like it would fit, certainly because it was a crime involving a child,” she said. But Penn State officials were convicted on misdemeanor charges falling under Clean Slate. The information redacted in other cases also related to misdemeanor charges. State records show that 43 million criminal cases in Pennsylvania have been sealed in whole or in part under Clean Slate. This includes 23 million cases that resulted in convictions and 20 million cases that resulted in no convictions. A jury found Shelton not guilty and a judge dismissed the charges against Thomas. All records of their charges have disappeared from the public domain. Both men are suing Allegheny County, alleging malicious prosecution. Melissa Melewsky, an attorney with the Pennsylvania News Media Association, said other cases left open were being sealed. “The Clean Slate Law is very clear. Convicted felons shouldn’t get the benefits of a clean slate order, but it happens,” Melewsky said. She added that the sealed cases are not just petty crimes. “I’ve seen cases where entire murder cases have been sealed because a less comprehensive assault charge has not been pursued despite a murder conviction,” she said. “Nol prossed” is a term for charges that are dropped. Earlier this year, Pennlive.com reported that 80% of all crimes in Franklin County, including rape and murder cases, were removed from public view. Action News Investigates requested Clean Slate records from state and local court officials. But the motion was denied, ironically because of clean slate law. Eric Feder, president of the State Association of Prothonotaries and Court Clerks, said clean slate is particularly difficult for court officials in smaller counties. “Some clerk’s offices are very small. Some employees have a few people – an elected official and a staffer in very small districts. So that can really be a drain on the function of the office,” he said. Delozier said she doesn’t believe there is a widespread misinterpretation of clean slate law. “I think there are certain areas that interpret it in a way and so they are taking care of it in their district and we’re working with them to make sure they understand what the intent of the law is,” she said. If criminal cases continue to be falsely removed from public view, Melewsky said it could undermine the entire court system. “The public should care because this is our way of making sure the system is working as it should. Any time you take away some of that access, it can damage public confidence in the justice system itself,” she said. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court directed local judges across the state to work with court clerks to ensure they are implementing Clean Slate correctly. Despite flaws in the existing law, Delozier and other lawmakers are working on a bill to expand the law to include minor drug offenses.

Millions of Pennsylvania criminal records are disappearing from public view due to the Clean Slate Law.

The law aims to help people convicted of minor offenses get a second chance.

But Action News Investigates learned that some people convicted of serious crimes – even murder – have had at least some of their records erased.

Cases where at least some information is redacted include:

  • Former Plum teachers Michael Cinefra and Jason Cooper, who pleaded guilty to allegedly having sex with students.
  • Former State Assemblyman Marc Gergely, who pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy and illegal campaign contributions.
  • Brandon Noel, who pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in a 2019 shooting at the Monroeville Mall.
  • The three Penn State officials who have pleaded guilty to child endangerment in the Jerry Sandusky scandal: former President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. The police reports detailing their crimes are sealed.

State Assemblyman Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland County, helped draft the Clean Slate Law. Action News Investigates asked her about the Penn State cases.

“It doesn’t look like it would fit, certainly because it was a crime involving a child,” she said.

But Penn State officials were convicted of misdemeanors falling under Clean Slate.

The information redacted in other cases included misdemeanor charges.
State records show that 43 million Pennsylvania crime cases have been sealed in whole or in part under Clean Slate.

This includes 23 million cases that resulted in convictions and 20 million that resulted in no convictions.

Among those not convicted are the two men charged in the 2015 Wilkinsburg mass shooting, Cheron Shelton and Robert Thomas. A jury found Shelton not guilty and a judge dismissed the charges against Thomas.

All records of her protégés have disappeared from the public domain. Both men are suing Allegheny County, alleging malicious prosecution. Melissa Melewsky, an attorney with the Pennsylvania News Media Association, said other cases that should remain open are being sealed.

“The clean slate law is very clear. Convicted felons shouldn’t get the benefits of a clean slate order, but it happens,” Melewsky said.

She added that the sealed cases are not just petty crimes.

“I’ve seen cases where entire murder cases have been sealed because a less comprehensive assault charge has not been pursued despite a murder conviction,” she said. “Nol prossed” is a term for fees that are dropped.

Earlier this year, Pennlive.com reported that 80% of all crimes in Franklin County, including rape and murder cases, were removed from public view.

Action News Investigates requested Clean Slate records from state and local court officials. But the motion was denied, ironically because of clean slate law.

Eric Feder, president of the National Association of Prothonotaries and Court Clerks, said clean slate has been particularly difficult for court officials in smaller counties.

“Some offices are very small. Some employees have a few people – an elected official and a staffer in very small districts. So that can really be a drain on the function of the office,” he said.

Delozier said she doesn’t believe there is a widespread misinterpretation of clean slate law.

“I think there are certain pockets that interpret it in a way and that’s how they care about it in their county and we’re working with them to make sure they understand what the intent of the law is,” she said .

If criminal cases continue to be mistakenly removed from public view, it could undermine the entire court system, Melewsky said.

“The public should take care of it because that way we guarantee that the system works as it should. Any time you take away some of that access, it can damage public confidence in the justice system itself,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court asked local judges across the state to work with court clerks to ensure they were implementing Clean Slate correctly.

Despite irregularities in the existing law, Delozier and other lawmakers are working on a bill to expand the law to include minor drug offenses.

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