When you're facing a conviction for failing to disperse after an official order from law enforcement, you may think it's a minor offense. Maybe you pled guilty or didn't fight the charges because it was “just” a misdemeanor charge. But now that you have a criminal record, you may realize that any criminal record can follow you for a long time. Even a misdemeanor conviction can limit your professional and educational opportunities, affecting your ability to get certain jobs in law enforcement, in the military, or with professional licensing. Fortunately, Pennsylvania law has some options for cleaning up your conviction, including expungement and sealing your records.
Expungement ensures the destruction of your records by court order, making it a more thorough option. Sealing your record limits public access, but the records will still exist. However, sealing is a more practical option for most people because Pennsylvania law only allows the expungement of a misdemeanor or felony convictions in very limited circumstances. Even if you don't qualify to expunge your record, you may be able to seal your arrest or court records with Pennsylvania's Clean Slate or Act 5 legislation.
Pennsylvania Statute for Failure to Disperse Upon Official Order
You can face charges for failing to disperse upon official order in Pennsylvania when:
- Three or more people,
- Are “participating in a course of disorderly conduct” that causes or “may reasonably be expected to cause,”
- “Substantial harm or serious inconvenience, annoyance or alarm,”
A police officer or other “public servant” enforcing the law can order the people and anyone in the immediate vicinity to disperse. If you refuse or knowingly fail to obey the order, the police may charge you with failure to disperse upon a lawful order.
See 18 Pa. C.S. § 5502 (1973).
Penalties for Failure to Disperse in Pennsylvania
Failing to disperse after a lawful order is a second-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. While many believe that a “misdemeanor” is a minor charge, it carries serious penalties. You can face fines of $500 to $5,000 and up to two years in prison if convicted.
Sealing Your Failure to Disperse Record Through Clean Slate
Until recently, sealing your record in Pennsylvania was a challenging process involving applications to the court and possibly a hearing. Many people were overwhelmed or intimidated by the process, or they simply didn't know that they might be able to seal their criminal records. So, in 2019, the Pennsylvania legislature passed new “Clean Slate” legislation to make sealing criminal records accessible to more people. Now, the state will automatically seal your record after five to ten years if you qualify. The new legislation has been a big success, with the state sealing more than 43 million criminal records since 2019.
You may qualify for automatic sealing under Clean Slate if:
- You have a conviction for a second or third-degree misdemeanor, a summary offense, or certain ungraded offenses,
- You never received a conviction because of dismissal of your charges or a not guilty verdict,
- After completion of some diversionary programs, or
- You have an ungraded misdemeanor conviction punishable by no more than two years in prison.
If you have a second-degree misdemeanor for failing to disperse upon a lawful order in Pennsylvania, you may be qualified to seal your record under Clean Slate automatically.
Sealing Your Record for Failing to Disperse With an Act 5 Petition
If you don't qualify for Clean Slate's automatic sealing, you may still qualify to petition for sealing under Act 5. The Act 5 process doesn't happen automatically. Instead, you must apply for the court to limit public access to your records. Even though Act 5 requires additional, proactive steps, it allows you to seal a wider range of convictions. You may be able to petition for Act 5 sealing if:
- You wait at least ten years after completing your sentence and paying any restitution ordered by the court,
- Your misdemeanor conviction was punishable by no more than five years in jail, and
- You don't have an arrest or prosecution for any additional crimes punishable by a year or more in jail.
Until recently, you also had to wait ten years after paying any court-imposed fines before petitioning the court to seal your records. However, the legislature recently expanded the state's sealing legislature to clarify that you must simply wait ten years after paying any court-imposed restitution, but not court-imposed fines.
If you have a second-degree misdemeanor conviction for failing to disperse in Pennsylvania, and you don't qualify for Clean Slate's automatic sealing, you may be able to petition the court to seal your record under Act 5.
Sealing Felonies in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law doesn't typically allow you to seal a felony conviction. However, under limited circumstances, you may be able to expunge a felony conviction. You may qualify if:
- You are at least 70 years old, and it's been a minimum of ten years since the completion of your criminal proceedings,
- You receive a pardon from the governor of Pennsylvania, or
- The subject of the criminal record has been dead for at least three years.
If you receive a pardon from the governor, the state will now automatically seal your records. However, they will still exist unless you also expunge your records. If you have a felony conviction, you should discuss all your options for expungement with an experienced Pennsylvania attorney.
You Need a Skilled Pennsylvania Sealing and Expungement Attorney
If you're facing a possible conviction for failure to disperse, or you already have a conviction on your records, this isn't something you have to manage on your own. With an experienced criminal defense attorney, well-versed in sealing and expungement, you'll have the best chance of keeping your record clean or cleaning it up after a conviction. Figuring out the best option to seal or expunge your arrest and court records can be challenging on your own. That's why Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping Pennsylvanians with the sealing and expungement of criminal records for years. They can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686, or contact them online to schedule your consultation.