Arrests and criminal charges, even if they did not result in a sentencing or jail time, can lead to unpleasant repercussions. Your job prospects, housing and even child custody can be negatively affected if you have a criminal record. That’s why it is critical to have an experienced defense attorney to represent you if you’re facing any type of criminal charge, because a criminal record carries lasting consequences.

What is a “criminal record”? 

A criminal record is a legal document that outlines any and all criminal activity in an individual’s history. It includes all arrests, warrants, charges, sentences, or offender registry statuses from someone’s lifetime. If you live in the state of Pennsylvania, have an internet connection and pay a fee of $4.95, you can search for and download your criminal record through the Pennsylvania State Records website.

If something goes on your criminal record, does it stay there forever? 

Generally, yes. Removing information from your criminal record or sealing it from public view is done through a process called expungement. In Pennsylvania, an individual’s criminal history can automatically be expunged of summary offenses if the person is over the age of 70 and has been arrest-free for 10 years, has been deceased for three years, or has petitioned the court for expungement after being arrest-free for five years.

Can a criminal record impact future charges and convictions?

Yes. Repeat offenses, also known as subsequent offenses, are crimes committed that are the same as or similar to a crime an individual committed in their past. If an individual is found guilty of a subsequent offense, they might face an extended sentence or increased fines. Additionally, having a crime on your record can sway a judge or jury’s decision to convict you.

How can you keep a charge off your record? 

When you take your case to court, your attorney will fight to have you cleared of all charges. Often, dismissed charges will show up on a criminal background check, but in most cases they will not affect your application for employment or housing, given that most criminal background checks are searching for convictions and not just charges.

Why would your attorney want to “plead down” your charges? 

A plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a charge in exchange for dropping others, accepting a lesser charge, or serving a reduced sentence. A plea bargain helps your attorney keep more serious charges off your permanent record, reducing the risk that one bad decision will follow you around for the rest of your life.

At Matthew R. Zatko, Attorney at Law, I understand the importance of having a qualified criminal defense attorney on your side in the courtroom. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, schedule a free consultation with me by calling 814-443-1631 or contacting my Somerset office online.