If you have a conviction for harassment on your record in Pennsylvania, you no doubt understand that a criminal conviction has consequences beyond an immediate jail term and fine. A criminal conviction can remain on your record for years, limiting your career and educational options. Fortunately, Pennsylvania believes in second chances. As a result, our state legislature created some options to clean up a criminal record by sealing or expunging your criminal history.
An expungement will remove your criminal records from agency and court records, but not everyone is eligible for expungement under Pennsylvania law. However, you may still be eligible to remove your records from public access through the process of record sealing.
Harassment Charges in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law defines harassment as intending to “harass, annoy or alarm another,” someone:
- Strikes, shoves, kicks, or subjects another person to physical contact or threatens to do so
- Follows someone in a public place
- Repeatedly commits acts or “engages in a course of conduct” which serves “no legitimate purpose”
A conviction for harassment for any of the above actions is a summary offense, the lowest level of offense under Pennsylvania law. However, harassment rises to a third-degree misdemeanor if it involves:
- Communicating to or about someone with “lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures”
- Communicating anonymously repeatedly
- Communicating repeatedly at inconvenient hours, such as in the middle of the night
- Communicating repeatedly in another manner
See 18 Pa. Stat. § 2709 (2015). Harassment also includes the crime of “cyber harassment of a child.”
Penalties for Harassment
A conviction for harassment can be either a summary offense or a misdemeanor depending on the severity of the crime, whether it is a repeat offense, and whether the defendant was violating a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order. Courts typically grant PFAs to protect family members or intimate or dating partners from potential domestic violence.
- Summary Offense: A conviction for a summary offense for harassment carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.
- Third-degree Misdemeanor: A conviction for a third-degree misdemeanor for harassment carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
- Second-degree Misdemeanor: Harassment can become a second-degree misdemeanor if it involves violating a PFA taken out by a repeat victim, family, or household member. A conviction for a second-degree misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Cleaning up Harassment Charges From a Criminal Record
Pennsylvania law offers several options for sealing a shoplifting conviction, depending on the grading of your harassment conviction. You may be eligible to have your records automatically sealed through the state's Clean Slate legislation. Or, you may be eligible to seal your harassment conviction through Pennsylvania's Act 5 legislation. In a few cases, you may be able to expunge your harassment criminal record.
Clean Slate Automatic Sealing
Our state's Clean Slate legislation requires the court to seal or automatically limit public access to any qualifying criminal or arrest records ten years after you complete your sentence. The court will automatically seal your qualifying records if you remain free from additional convictions punishable by a year or more in prison.
The court automatically seals records that include:
- Charges that didn't end in a conviction, such as those that were dismissed or dropped, not guilty verdicts, and nolle prosse convictions
- Convictions for a summary offense after a five-year waiting period
- Second or third-degree misdemeanors after a waiting period
- First-degree misdemeanors after a waiting period if they were only punishable by two years or less in prison
Act 5 Record Sealing
Under Pennsylvania law, Act 5 “limited access” sealing won't happen automatically like Clean Slate sealing. If you have a summary offense or misdemeanor conviction for harassment, you may be eligible to use Act 5 to seal your records if you've had no arrests or prosecutions for crimes punishable by more than a year in jail for the last ten years.
While Act 5 sealing doesn't happen automatically, it applies to a wider range of convictions than Clean Slate. Act 5 will allow you to seal qualifying misdemeanors and ungraded offenses with penalties of five years or less in prison. Clean Slate only allows you to seal misdemeanors punished by two years or less.
Sealing Your Harassment Conviction
If you have a summary offense, third-degree misdemeanor, or second-degree misdemeanor conviction for harassment in Pennsylvania, Clean Slate may require that the state automatically limit public access to your records. Your record is eligible for sealing five years after completing your sentence for a summary offense conviction and ten years after completing your sentence for a misdemeanor conviction. However, you must remain free from additional convictions punishable by a year or more in jail.
Another option to clean up your record may be expungement. An expungement is a court order that will eradicate your criminal record. The order will compel court and state agencies to destroy your records related to an expunged arrest or conviction. However, you may only be eligible for expungement for a harassment conviction if you have a conviction for a summary offense and you've been free from arrest or conviction for the last five years. You typically cannot expunge a misdemeanor conviction for harassment.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Sealing Attorney
Trying to figure out the best way to clean up your misdemeanor record for harassment can be challenging, and you shouldn't have to do this alone. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced team at the Lento Law Firm have helped many people through the sealing process in Pennsylvania. Find out how they can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation or contact them online today.