Can I Expunge a Harassment Charge in Pennsylvania?
We all make mistakes, especially in our younger years. We may not understand the long-term repercussions of letting things get heated. A criminal record can limit your opportunities in future careers, your education, your ability to get financial aid, and even make it harder to rent or buy a home. If you have a harassment charge or conviction in Pennsylvania, luckily, you may have a second chance. Our state allows people to expunge or seal their records in some situations.
What Can I Expunge in Pennsylvania?
You can expunge a summary offense if you've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years in Pennsylvania. A summary offense is a minor crime, less serious than a misdemeanor or felony. The maximum penalty for a summary offense is typically 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,500. However, a summary offense conviction will usually result in just a fine.
You can also expunge a crime for which you were charged but never convicted. Non-convictions include not guilty verdicts, dropped or dismissed charges, and nolle prose dispositions. You cannot expunge a misdemeanor or felony conviction in Pennsylvania, but you may be able to have convictions sealed in some cases.
Harassment in Pennsylvania
You may be eligible to have a harassment conviction expunged in Pennsylvania if it was a summary offense. Harassment by (1) striking, shoving, kicking, or otherwise subject person to physical contact; (2) following the other person in or about a public place; or (3) engaging "in a course of conduct" which serves no legitimate purpose, is a summary offense. But other forms of harassment or multiple offenses can lead to a misdemeanor charge, which you can only expunge in very limited situations.
The Pennsylvania Criminal Code states:
A person commits the crime of harassment when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another, the person:
(1) strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects the other person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same;
(2) follows the other person in or about a public place or places;
(3) engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which serve no legitimate purpose;
(4) communicates to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures;
(5) communicates repeatedly in an anonymous manner;
(6) communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours; or
(7) communicates repeatedly in a manner other than specified in paragraphs (4), (5) and (6).
18 Pa. Code § 2709 (2015). While harassment under sections (1) to (3) above is a summary offense, harassment as defined under sections (4) through (7) is a third-degree misdemeanor. So, the police may charge you with a misdemeanor if the harassment charge involved:
- Communicating to or about someone using lewd, threatening, or obscene language or drawings,
- Communicating repeatedly anonymously,
- Communicating repeatedly late at night, or
- Communicating repeatedly in any manner.
Additionally, if the accused harasser has a previous conviction for violating a protective order involving the same "victim, family, or family member," the grade of the crime increases by an additional degree, which could make the crime a second-degree misdemeanor.
Can I Expunge a Harassment Charge?
You may be able to expunge a harassment charge under certain circumstances, including when:
- The police charged you with harassment, but a court didn't convict you. You can expunge dropped or dismissed charges, not guilty verdicts, and nolle prosse dispositions.
- You completed the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) or a similar diversionary program where you finished probation without a conviction.
You may be able to expunge a harassment conviction if it was a summary offense, and you've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years.
You cannot expunge misdemeanor harassment 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.
If you don't meet one of the criteria above, you probably can't have your harassment charge or conviction expunged. You may be able to have those records sealed or request a pardon from the state. In some cases, the state will automatically seal records for nonviolent misdemeanor convictions or records with no conviction.
Juvenile Harassment Charges
You may be able to have a harassment conviction expunged if you were under 18 at the time, and it was a summary offense. There are several categories of expungable juvenile summary offense crimes. Two of the most common are possible if:
- You are now 18, and at least six months have passed since you completed your disposition; you have no other misdemeanor or felony convictions since that time, and you don't have any pending summary offense, misdemeanor, or felony charges.
- It has been five years since you completed your sentence or disposition, you haven't had any misdemeanor or felony charges during that time, and you don't have any currently pending summary offense, misdemeanor, or felony charges.
A skilled Pennsylvania expunction attorney can discuss the full range of options for expunging or sealing your juvenile records.
Sealing a Harassment Conviction
If you aren't eligible to expunge a harassment charge because you have a misdemeanor conviction rather than a summary offense, you may be eligible to have the records sealed. When sealed, criminal records are no longer accessible to the general public or simple background checks. However, the records will still be accessible to state and federal law enforcement and courts. The records will also still appear on FBI background checks.
You may be eligible to have records related to some misdemeanor convictions sealed after ten years of no arrests or convictions. Moreover, under Pennsylvania's new "clean slate" law, the Pennsylvania courts will automatically seal some records, 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.
Hire a Pennsylvania Attorney Experienced in Expunctions
Of course, the best way to avoid a criminal record is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney right away after your arrest. But having your records related to an arrest or conviction expunged or sealed can also help protect your personal and professional reputation. You need the help of a skilled Pennsylvania expungement attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran criminal defense attorney with much experience helping clients expunge criminal records. He can help. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686.