If you have an arrest record in Pennsylvania, you may discover that your record can have unintended long-term consequences. Aside from paying a fine or spending time in jail or on probation, a criminal record can affect your future education or profession. A record can prevent you from obtaining professional licensing, getting a loan, obtaining financial aid, or renting an apartment. Luckily Pennsylvania offers second chances for some people with criminal records through expungement. Expungement is an order from a Pennsylvania court to destroy or remove administrative or court records of an arrest, conviction, or criminal charge.
What Can You Expunge in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, you typically cannot expunge a misdemeanor or a felony conviction. You may, however, be able to expunge a conviction for a summary offense or another degree of crime if a court never convicted you.
1. Summary Offense Conviction
You may be able to expunge a conviction for a summary offense e been free from arrest or prosecution for five years or more. In Pennsylvania, a summary offense is a crime considered less serious than a misdemeanor or felony. Typically, a summary offense conviction only results in a fine, but the maximum penalty for a summary offense is 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,500.
If you were charged with a crime in Pennsylvania but never convicted, you might be able to expunge the records. Other non-convictions eligible for expungement include dismissed charges, dropped charges, not guilty verdicts, and nolle prose dispositions.
Even though you can't typically expunge misdemeanor or felony convictions in Pennsylvania, in some cases, you may be able to seal the records instead.
Cruelty to Animals and Neglect of Animals in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, both neglect of animals and animal cruelty are summary offenses, but they can also become misdemeanors if the animal is seriously injured.
- Animal Cruelty
A person is guilty of cruelty to animals if “the person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly illtreats, overloads, beats, abandons or abuses an animal.” 18 Pa. Stat. § 5533 (2018). Cruelty to animals is a summary offense unless “the violation causes bodily injury to the animal or places the animal at imminent risk of serious bodily injury.” 18 Pa. Stat. § 5533 (2) (2018). If someone causes bodily injury in this manner, it is a second-degree misdemeanor.
- Animal Neglect
Animal neglect is usually a summary offense. Someone commits neglect of an animal in Pennsylvania if:
[T]he person fails to provide for the basic needs of each animal to which the person has a duty of care, whether belonging to himself or otherwise, including any of the following:
- Necessary sustenance and potable water.
- Access to clean and sanitary shelter and protection from the weather. The shelter must be sufficient to permit the animal to retain body heat and keep the animal dry.
- Necessary veterinary care.
18 Pa. Stat. § 5532 (2018).
If someone's neglect of an animal “causes bodily injury to the animal or places the animal at imminent risk of serious bodily injury,” it is a third-degree misdemeanor. 18 Pa. Stat. § 5532 (2018).
Can I Expunge a Charge for Cruelty to Animals?
In Pennsylvania, you can expunge a charge for cruelty to animals or neglect of animals if:
- You were convicted of a summary offense and have been free from arrest or prosecution for five years,
- You were charged but never convicted of a summary offense or misdemeanor cruelty to or neglect of animals. Eligible non-convictions include not guilty verdicts, dropped or dismissed charges, and nolle prose dispositions, or
- You completed a diversionary program where you completed probation without conviction.
Juvenile Convictions for Cruelty to Animals
In many cases, Pennsylvania will allow you to expunge juvenile convictions for cruelty to animals or neglect of animals if you were under 18 at the time of your conviction. A successful expungement is most likely if you're now over 18, it's been six or more months since completing your sentence, and you don't have any more felony or misdemeanor charges against you. You may also qualify to expunge your juvenile record if it's been five years since completing your sentence and you haven't faced any additional misdemeanor or felony charges. An experienced Pennsylvania expunction attorney can help you.
Sealing a Conviction for Cruelty to Animals or Neglect of Animals
If you aren't eligible for expungement because of a second or third-degree misdemeanor conviction for cruelty to animals, you may be able to seal your records instead. In Pennsylvania, sealing your records ensures they are no longer accessible to the public, but the court won't order your records destroyed.
You can seal records for cruelty to or neglect of animals if you:
- Have a second or third-degree misdemeanor conviction,
- Haven't been arrested in ten years or more,
- Haven't been convicted of a felony, first-degree misdemeanor, or second-degree simple assault,
- Have fewer than four misdemeanor convictions, and
- Have completely satisfied all your fines and court costs.
Under Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Act of 2018, the state can now automatically seal some criminal records, including:
- Arrests with no conviction,
- Charges where the court found you not guilty,
- Nonviolent convictions that are ten years or older, and
- Misdemeanor offenses with fewer than two years in prison involved.
While sealing your records will make them inaccessible to the general public, the police, the courts, and employers that must consider criminal history under federal law will still have access to the records. But for most routine background checks performed by employers or landlords, your sealed records won't appear. You also will no longer legally be required to disclose it under most circumstances.
Hire a Pennsylvania Attorney Experienced in Expungements
If you have convictions for animal cruelty or neglect of animals in Pennsylvania and you'd like to clear your record, you need the guidance of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a skilled Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney with experience helping clients clear their records through expungement and sealing criminal records. He can help. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686.