Whether you have charges pending against you or you have a criminal conviction for animal cruelty on your record already, there can be long-term consequences. A criminal record can limit your educational and career opportunities and even prevent you from volunteering in your community. Fortunately, Pennsylvania believes in second chances, and you do have options to clean up your record.
Expungement, or destroying your record, is usually the most thorough method of cleaning up a criminal record. Unfortunately, not many people qualify for expungements under Pennsylvania law. However, you may be able to seal your record, limiting public access. While your records will still exist, they won't be easily accessible to most future employers.
Charges for Cruelty to Animals in Pennsylvania
You can face charges for cruelty to an animal in Pennsylvania if you “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly illtreat, overload, beat, abandon or abuse an animal.”18 Pa. Stat. § 5533. Examples of animal cruelty can include:
- Kicking, stomping, throwing, or hitting an animal,
- Dog or cock fighting,
- Inflicting physical harm or pain, or
- Withholding food, water, or shelter to the point of physically harming an animal.
Animal cruelty charges can stem from harm to a personal pet, harm to others' animals, or actions taken at work if you work with animals. For example, in October of 2022, Pennsylvania poultry farm employees were charged with animal cruelty when they kicked and stomped turkeys while catching them for crating before sending them to a meat processing plant.
You could also face charges for aggravated animal cruelty if the animal dies or suffers serious bodily injury. Aggravated animal cruelty happens when someone “intentionally or knowingly” does any of the following:
- Tortures an animal.
- Violates section 5532 (relating to neglect of animal) or 5533 (relating to cruelty to animal) causing serious bodily injury to the animal or the death of the animal.
18 Pa. Stat. § 5534 (2017). In these cases, you could face charges for both animal cruelty and aggravated animal cruelty. Animal neglect that results in serious bodily injury or death can also result in aggravated animal cruelty charges.
Penalties for Animal Cruelty in Pennsylvania
Animal cruelty is usually a summary offense in Pennsylvania. While a summary offense is less serious than a misdemeanor or felony, it can still carry jail time and fines. A summary conviction is punishable by up to a $300 fine, 90 days in jail, and restitution. However, if your offense “causes bodily injury to the animal or places the animal at imminent risk of serious bodily injury,” then animal cruelty becomes a second-degree misdemeanor. In Pennsylvania, a conviction for a second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by fines of $500 to $5,000 and up to two years in prison.
If the charge rises to the level of aggravated animal cruelty for intentionally torturing an animal or for neglect or abuse so severe that it causes serious injury or death, it becomes a third-degree felony. A conviction for a third-degree felony in Pennsylvania is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
Sealing Your Record for Animal Cruelty Through Clean Slate
Until recently, only a fraction of people eligible to seal their records in Pennsylvania actually did so. Many people didn't know they were eligible, or they found the application process too cumbersome. As a result, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a new law, making sealing accessible for more people. The 2019 “Clean Slate” law now allows the state to automatically seal records of qualifying people after five to ten years. You may qualify for Clean Slate's automatic record sealing if:
- Your conviction is for a second or third-degree misdemeanor or a summary offense,
- You don't have a conviction because of dropped charges or a not guilty verdict, or
- Your conviction is for a misdemeanor punishable by no more than two years in prison.
The state will typically automatically seal your record after only five years for a summary conviction. However, if you have a misdemeanor conviction, you must wait ten years. If you have a juvenile conviction, the waiting periods can vary.
If you have a conviction for a second-degree misdemeanor or a summary offense for animal cruelty, you may qualify to automatically seal your record under Clean Slate. But, with a summary conviction, you may be able to expunge rather than simply seal your records. An expungement is a complete solution, destroying your records rather than limiting public access. You may qualify to expunge your animal cruelty record if:
- You wait five years after completing your sentence, including paying all your court-ordered fines, and
- You don't have any more arrests or prosecutions in the last five years.
Expungement is not automatic; you'll need to petition the court to make it happen. An experienced sealing and expungement attorney can give you advice on your options.
Sealing Your Animal Cruelty Criminal Record with an Act 5 Petition
Even if you can't use Clean Slate's automatic sealing because you don't qualify, you may still be able to seal your record through Pennsylvania's Act 5. You must petition the court for an Act 5 sealing, but more people with a wider range of convictions will qualify under this section of the law. You may qualify for an Act 5 petition if:
- You wait at least ten years after completing your sentence,
- You have a conviction for a misdemeanor or other ungraded offense punishable by no more than five years in prison,
- You don't have any more arrests or convictions punishable by a year or more in jail.
Felony Convictions and Sealing
Unfortunately, you cannot seal your record in Pennsylvania if you have a felony conviction. If you have a third-degree felony conviction for aggravated animal cruelty, you won't be able to seal or expunge your record except in very limited circumstances. If you'd like to explore your options, an experienced Pennsylvania sealing attorney can help.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Sealing Attorney
If you have a criminal conviction in Pennsylvania for animal cruelty and want to explore limiting public access to those records, it's time to talk to a skilled sealing and expungement attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a seasoned Pennsylvania sealing and expungement attorney with years of experience helping Pennsylvanians clean up their records. Find out how he can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact them online today.