Hate crimes can be a serious problem in Pennsylvania. Crimes against people, property, and society motivated by bias against someone's race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality have risen over the last decade. But everyone makes mistakes. And if you're facing a charge for ethnic intimidation and another underlying charge, you shouldn't try to handle this alone. A conviction for ethnic intimidation can leave you with a criminal record and serious penalties, depending on the level of the underlying offense. But if you already have a conviction or an arrest on your record, you may be able to expunge or seal the charges. Record sealing can allow you to keep your arrest and conviction hidden from public view in many cases.
Pennsylvania Law on Ethnic Intimidation
Under Pennsylvania law, ethnic intimidation happens when someone:
- Commits an offense under the criminal code, including arson, criminal mischief, criminal trespass, institutional vandalism, or other property destruction,
- With malicious intention toward the “race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals,”
- “With respect to such individual or his or her property or with respect to one or more members of such group or to their property.”
18 Pa. Stat. § 2710 (2002).
“Malicious intention” under the statute means “means the intention to commit any act, the commission of which is a necessary element of any offense referred to in subsection (a) motivated by hatred toward the race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals.”
Penalties for Ethnic Intimidation
The penalties for ethnic intimidation vary depending on the circumstances and seriousness of the crime. The law states:
An offense under this section shall be classified as a misdemeanor of the third degree if the other offense is classified as a summary offense. Otherwise, an offense under this section shall be classified one degree higher in the classification specified in section 106 (relating to classes of offenses) than the classification of the other offense.
18 Pa. Stat. § 2710 (2002).
- Third-degree Misdemeanor Pennsylvania law defines ethnic intimidation as a third-degree misdemeanor if the underlying offense, such as arson, criminal mischief, vandalism, or criminal trespass, is a summary offense. A summary offense is less serious than a misdemeanor under Pennsylvania's criminal code. A conviction for a third-degree misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of $250 to $5,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
- One Degree Higher Offense If the underlying offense is higher than a summary offense, meaning it's a misdemeanor or a felony, a charge for ethnic intimidation becomes more serious under Pennsylvania law. The ethnic intimidation charge will be one degree higher than the underlying offense. For example, if the underlying charge is for arson that endangers property, the underlying charge is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. In that case, the ethnic intimidation charge will be a first-degree felony. A first-degree felony conviction in Pennsylvania is punishable by ten to twenty years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine.
Sealing Misdemeanor Ethnic Intimidation Records
Pennsylvania law offers two legislative options to seal your records if you have only misdemeanor convictions. Sealing your records won't eliminate them like expungement, but it does limit public access to your arrest and court records. If you meet the requirements of the statute, you can use Pennsylvania'sClean Slate legislation to seal your record, which is the easier option. Under the Clean Slate law, the state automatically seals your records in some circumstances. However, if you don't qualify to use Clean Slate for automatic record sealing, you may be able to petition the court to seal your records under Pennsylvania's Act 5.
Sealing an Ethnic Intimidation Record Through Clean Slate
In 2019, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a ground-breaking Clean Slate legislation to allow people with criminal records a second chance. Under the law, you can have your records automatically sealed ten years after you complete your sentence and pay your fines if you meet the statutory requirements. The court automatically seals your records under Clean
- Your conviction is only for a summary conviction, a charge less serious than a misdemeanor,
- The court dismissed the charges or found you not guilty,
- Your misdemeanor conviction is for a second-degree or third-degree misdemeanor,
- Your misdemeanor charge was punishable by two years or less in prison.
So, you may be able to seal an ethnic intimidation record under Clean Slate if you were charged but not convicted, or your misdemeanor conviction was only punishable by two years or less in prison.
Sealing Your Ethnic Intimidation Record with an Act 5 Petition
The second option for sealing your record in Pennsylvania is Act 5 sealing. Act 5 varies from Clean Slate in several ways:
- It doesn't happen automatically.
- You must petition the court.
- It applies to more misdemeanor convictions.
To qualify for Act 5 sealing, you must:
- Wait ten years after completing your sentence and paying your fines,
- Have no additional arrests or prosecutions for crimes punishable by a year or more in jail, and
- Have only a misdemeanor or other ungraded offenses punishable by five years or less in prison.
Sealing a Felony Ethnic Intimidation Charge in Pennsylvania
If you have a felony conviction for ethnic intimidation because your underlying offense was a first-degree misdemeanor or a felony, you won't be able to seal your criminal record in Pennsylvania except under very limited circumstances. If you receive a Governor's pardon, you can apply to expunge your record after the pardon. If you have a felony conviction, you'll need to consult an experienced expungement and sealing attorney to discuss your options.
Hire a Skilled Pennsylvania Sealing Attorney
If you have a conviction for ethnic intimidation and another underlying offense, whether or not you can seal your criminal record may be a complicated determination. Even under the best circumstances, Pennsylvania's expungement and sealing laws can be complex and difficult to navigate. That's why you need an experienced attorney well-versed in Pennsylvania sealing and expungement laws. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping the people of Pennsylvania navigate the labyrinth of sealing records for years. Find out how they can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888.535.3686 to schedule your consultation, or contact them online.