Pardons, Clean Slate program help erase criminal records in certain cases
Pittsburgh attorney Casey Mullen, a native of the city’s Lawrenceville section, spends most of his time helping criminal defendants.
In 1994, he himself was a defendant, arrested at Duquesne University, where he was a 19-year-old undergraduate selling drugs to support his own habit.
While completing parole and returning to studies at Duquesne, he decided to apply to the university’s law school but was repeatedly rejected.
“Law schools frown upon people who are on parole,” he said. “I was bitter. I was doing everything in my power to make amends.”
Then his parole officer suggested he apply for a pardon through the governor’s office. Gov. Ed Rendell granted it in 2009, and Mullen obtained his law degree in 2011.
Now, he not only represents others who are applying for a pardon. He speaks at events like Wednesday’s Pathways to Pardons meeting at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, which was attended by more than 30 people seeking information about the state’s pardon process.
Mullen said he speaks at such programs to inspire others to seek a pardon for a criminal record that may be a barrier to their life plans.
“It’s nice to say I’m not a felon,” he said. “It’s liberating. I’m no longer defined by that mistake.
“The solution isn’t perpetual punishment, prohibiting young, talented people from entering certain professions or fully contributing to our society.”
Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, who led Wednesday’s meeting, agreed.
“We should let everybody clear their records if they’re doing the right things, if they’ve learned from their past mistakes,” he said. “We’re the second-chance nation.”
Steve Burk, secretary of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, said the board has been working to reduce the length of the pardon process to about 2 1 ⁄ 2 years and is looking to simplify the application that must be purchased for $8. At a merit review session, the board determines if an applicant will be granted a full public hearing of his case. The recommendation, determined by a vote after the hearing, is forwarded to the governor for consideration.
Matt Franchak, Stack’s chief of staff, said the state’s Clean Slate program for sealing qualifying criminal records is another avenue available to those whose past infractions are a barrier. If a criminal record is sealed through the program, only law enforcement and certain state certifying boards would have access to it, he said.
More details about the state’s pardon process can be found at www.bop.pa.gov.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @jhimler_news.