Can I Get a Criminal Mischief Charge Expunged in Pennsylvania?
We all did stupid things when we were younger. In some places, covering someone's home in toilet paper, or even adding spray paint graffiti all over a neighboring school, were rites of passage. Of course, we knew it was something we shouldn't do, and maybe you didn't. Maybe you just happened to be there while your friends did something stupid. But it's all too easy to end up with a criminal mischief charge on your record because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, we sometimes get a second chance. In certain circumstances, you can have minor offenses expunged from your record or sealed by the court. Expungement is a court order that directs that your administrative and criminal records from an arrest, charge, or conviction in Pennsylvania be destroyed or removed.
What Can I Expunge in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, you expunge summary offenses, which are minor offenses. A summary offense is less serious than a misdemeanor or felony and is often called a non-traffic code violation. The maximum penalty is typically 90 days in jail and up to a $1,500 fine. However, the punishment for a summary offense is usually just a fine.
You can expunge a summary offense if you've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years. You can also expunge charges if:
- You were arrested or charged but never convicted,
- The prosecutor dropped the charges, or the court dismissed them, and
- You entered a nolle prose disposition.
You can only expunge misdemeanor and felony conviction in very limited circumstances, but you may be eligible to have those crimes sealed. If you get your records sealed, they aren't accessible to the public or through simple background checks. Sealed records will still appear on FBI background checks and be accessible to law enforcement and the courts.
Criminal Mischief in Pennsylvania
You may be eligible to have a criminal mischief conviction expunged in Pennsylvania if it was a summary offense. Whether the charge is a felony, misdemeanor, or summary offense depends upon the amount of damage and the type of property damage in question. Many things in Pennsylvania can fall under the definition of criminal mischief, including vandalism, damaging or destroying someone else's property, graffiti, or shooting a paintball gun at someone's property.
Under the Pennsylvania Code, someone is guilty of criminal mischief if they:
(1) damage[…] tangible property of another intentionally, recklessly, or by negligence in the employment of fire, explosives, or other dangerous means listed in section 3302(a) of this title (relating to causing or risking catastrophe);
(2) intentionally or recklessly tamper[…] with tangible property of another so as to endanger person or property;
(3) intentionally or recklessly cause[…] another to suffer pecuniary loss by deception or threat;
(4) intentionally deface[…] or otherwise damage[…] tangible public property or tangible property of another with graffiti by use of any aerosol spray-paint can, broad-tipped indelible marker or similar marking device;
(5) intentionally damage[…] real or personal property of another; or
(6) intentionally deface[…] personal, private or public property by discharging a paintball gun or paintball marker at that property.
18 Pa. Code § 3304(a) (2005). Depending on the circumstances, criminal mischief can be a felony, a misdemeanor, or a summary offense:
Criminal mischief is a felony of the third degree if the actor intentionally causes pecuniary loss in excess of $5,000, or a substantial interruption or impairment of public communication, transportation, supply of water, gas or power, or other public service. It is a misdemeanor of the second degree if the actor intentionally causes pecuniary loss in excess of $1,000, or a misdemeanor of the third degree if he intentionally or recklessly causes pecuniary loss in excess of $500 or causes a loss in excess of $150 for a violation of subsection (a)(4). Otherwise, criminal mischief is a summary offense.
18 Pa. Code § 3304(b) (2005).
Can I Expunge a Criminal Mischief Charge?
You may be able to expunge a criminal mischief charge if:
- Your conviction was a summary offense, and you've been free from arrest or prosecution for the last five years,
- The police charged you, but you weren't convicted, including not guilty verdicts, dropped or dismissed charges, and nolle prosse dispositions,
- You completed an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) or similar diversionary program where you finished probation without a conviction.
You cannot expunge misdemeanor or felony criminal mischief convictions unless:
- You are at least 70 years old, and ten years have passed since the criminal proceedings, or
- The subject of the criminal record has been dead for at least three years.
You may be able to expunge a criminal mischief charge if the conviction happened while you were a minor and it was a summary offense.
If you don't meet one of the criteria above, you may be able to have your records sealed or request a pardon from the state. You probably don't qualify to have your records expunged.
Sealing a Criminal Mischief Charge
In some cases, the state will automatically seal records for nonviolent misdemeanor convictions or records with no conviction, including:
- Criminal arrests if you weren't convicted,
- Charges where the court or jury found you not guilty,
- Nonviolent criminal convictions that are ten years or older, and
- Misdemeanor offenses punishable by less than two years in prison.
Otherwise, you can apply to have your records sealed if it was a nonviolent offense and you've been free from arrests and criminal charges for ten years.
Hire a Pennsylvania Attorney Experienced in Expunctions
If you're facing a criminal mischief charge, the best way to avoid a criminal record is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. But if you need to expunge or seal records from a criminal mischief charge or conviction, you should talk to a skilled Pennsylvania expungement attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a skilled criminal defense attorney with extensive experience helping clients expunge and seal criminal records. He can help. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686.