If you have a charge for assault on your record in Pennsylvania, you're probably already aware of the unintended consequences that can come with a criminal record long after you resolve your case. A criminal record can affect your educational and professional opportunities, keeping you from holding some jobs or obtaining a professional license. A criminal record can also keep you from getting a loan, student loans, a mortgage or prevent you from renting a home.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania law offers a second chance for some people through the process of expungement. An expungement is an order from the court to destroy administrative or court records related to an arrest, charge, or criminal conviction in Pennsylvania if you meet the criteria. If you don't qualify for an expungement, you might be able to seal your records instead.
What Can I Expunge in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, you can expunge a conviction for a summary offense if you are free from arrest or prosecution for five years or more. A summary offense carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,500 in Pennsylvania and is typically less serious than a misdemeanor or felony. Many summary offenses will result in just a fine.
You may also expunge crimes where you were charged but never actually convicted by the court, including:
- Nolle prose dispositions,
- Not guilty verdicts,
- Dismissed charges, or
- Dropped charges.
You cannot expunge a misdemeanor or felony conviction in Pennsylvania, except in very limited circumstances. You may, however, be able to seal your record instead.
Simple Assault in Pennsylvania
There are several variations of assault under Pennsylvania's criminal code. Simple assault is the least serious of these charges.
Someone commits assault if they:
(1) attempt[…] to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause[…] bodily injury to another;
(2) negligently cause[…] bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon;
(3) attempt[…] by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; or
(4) conceal[…] or attempt[…] to conceal a hypodermic needle on [their] person and intentionally or knowingly penetrates a law enforcement officer or an officer or an employee of a correctional institution, county jail or prison, detention facility or mental hospital during the course of an arrest or any search of the person.
18 Pa. Stat. § 2701 (a).
A simple assault charge is typically a second-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. 18 Pa. Stat. § 2701 (b). However, if the charge results from a fight or “scuffle” that both parties agreed to have, it may be a third-degree misdemeanor. If the simple assault is by someone over 18 against someone under 12, the charge is more serious, rising to a first-degree misdemeanor.
2. Penalties for Simple Assault
The most common grade for a simple assault charge is a second-degree misdemeanor. A second-degree misdemeanor is punishable with up to two years in prison and $5,000 in fines. However, a first-degree assault charge for assaulting someone under the age of 12 can result in two and a half to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Can I Expunge a Charge for Simple Assault?
In Pennsylvania, you can only expunge a charge for simple assault if:
- You were charged but never convicted of first, second, or third-degree misdemeanor assault. The charges eligible for expungement include not guilty verdicts, charges the prosecutor withdrew, charges the court dismissed, or nolle prose dispositions, or
- You completed a diversionary program with probation that didn't include a conviction.
When you go through a diversionary program, sometimes called “preadjudication disposition” or "Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)", the court places you in an alternative program that may involve probation, community service, and counseling or alcohol or drug treatment classes in lieu of going to trial or pleading guilty. Once you complete the program, the court dismisses the charges.
If a court convicts you of a less serious summary offense and you've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years, you may expunge a criminal conviction. However, simple assault is typically a first, second, or third-degree misdemeanor, which is only eligible for expungement under limited circumstances (70 years of age or deceased and other conditions being met).
Sealing Criminal Records in Pennsylvania
Simple assault in Pennsylvania is a misdemeanor, whether first, second, or third-degree, and you can't expunge these convictions. However, you may be able to seal some nonviolent convictions under Pennsylvania's Act 5 of 2016. You can seal records under this law if:
- You have a second-degree or third-degree misdemeanor conviction,
- You haven't been arrested in the last ten years,
- You have never been convicted of a felony, a first-degree misdemeanor, or a second-degree simple assault,
- You have fewer than four misdemeanor convictions, and
- You have paid all your fines and court costs.
As Pennsylvania record relief law has become more expansive since record sealing went into effect in 2016, a conviction for M2 Simple Assault can now be sealed but requires a sealing petition (as opposed to being automatic). You cannot seal a conviction for first-degree misdemeanor assault, however, which occurs when someone 18 or over assaults someone under the age of 12.
As touched upon above, Pennsylvania law also permits some records to be automatically sealed under the Clean Slate Act of 2018. The state may automatically seal your records for:
- Any arrests that didn't result in a conviction,
- Charges if the court found you not guilty,
- Nonviolent criminal convictions after ten years, and
- Misdemeanor offenses that involved fewer than two years in prison
Sealing differs from expungement in that it doesn't destroy your existing records. Rather, sealing the records removes them from public view. Most routine background checks such as those completed by landlords or employers won't reveal sealed records, and you won't be legally required to disclose them. However, employers that must consider criminal background under federal law or those that utilize FBI background checks, like the military, law enforcement, or those with security clearances, will still have access to sealed records.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
If you need options after a Pennsylvania conviction for simple assault, attorney Joseph D. Lento works quickly and efficiently to protect your rights and clear your record. Find out if an expungement or record sealing can help you. Call 888.535.3686 today to schedule a consultation. Attorney Lento fights hard for his clients. Let him fight for you too.