If you're facing charges for criminal mischief or already have a conviction on your record in Pennsylvania, you know that there can be serious consequences. While “criminal mischief” sounds like an innocuous crime, it can result in a felony conviction. Aside from the immediate penalties, including fines and possible jail time, you will also have a criminal record. Unfortunately, a criminal record can limit your educational, volunteer, and career opportunities and follow you for years.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania law provides several options to clean up your record after you've completed your sentence. You may be able to expunge or seal your record in many cases. While sealing your record won't remove records of your arrest or trial, it can limit public access, allowing you to regain your reputation in the community.
Pennsylvania Criminal Mischief Statute
You may face criminal mischief charges in Pennsylvania if you:
- Damage someone else's tangible property “intentionally, recklessly, or by negligence” through fire, explosives, or other “dangerous means” related to causing or risking a catastrophe.
- Tamper with someone else's tangible property “intentionally or recklessly,” endangering a person or property.
- Cause someone else to suffer a financial loss through threat or deception “intentionally or recklessly.”
- Deface or damage public property or someone else's tangible property with graffiti from spray paint, an indelible marker, or something similar.
- Intentionally damage someone else's real or personal property; or
- Intentionally deface someone else's “personal, private, or public property” with a paintball gun or paintball marker.
Under the criminal mischief statute, graffiti is an “unauthorized inscription, word, figure, mark or design which is written, marked, etched, scratched, drawn or painted.” See 18 Pa.C.S. § 3304 (2006).
Summary Offense Criminal Mischief Charges
In many cases, criminal mischief is a summary offense, which is the lowest level of crime in Pennsylvania, below misdemeanors and felonies. The penalty for a summary offense is a fine of up to $250 and up to 90 days in jail. You may be eligible to either expunge or seal a conviction for a summary offense, although expungement could be the better option. An experienced Pennsylvania expungement and sealing attorney like Joseph Lento can advise you on your best option.
Misdemeanor Criminal Mischief Charges
Many criminal mischief charges in Pennsylvania are misdemeanors if they involve significant damage to someone else's property.
- Third-degree Misdemeanor: You could face third-degree misdemeanor charges if you “intentionally or recklessly” cause a financial loss over $500 or over $150 if the loss results from graffiti with spray paint or permanent marker. A conviction for a third-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania can result in fines of $250 to $5,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
- Second-degree Misdemeanor: You could face second-degree criminal mischief charges if you “intentionally” cause a financial loss over $1,000. A second-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania can result in fines of up to $5,000 and one to two years in prison.
Most convictions for criminal mischief that don't involve damage to property over $5,000 in value will be misdemeanors or summary offenses. Pennsylvania law provides several options for you to seal a misdemeanor or summary offense conviction. If you are eligible, you can use Pennsylvania's new Clean Slate legislation to seal your record. Under Clean Slate, the state automatically seals your record in many cases. However, if you don't qualify for automatic Clean Slate sealing, you may be eligible to use Pennsylvania's Act 5 to petition the court for limited access to your court and arrest records. You may be eligible to expunge your record if you have a summary conviction for criminal mischief.
Felony Criminal Mischief Charges
The police may charge you with third-degree felony criminal mischief if you “intentionally” cause a financial loss over $5,000 or cause a “substantial interruption or impairment” of public communication, water, gas, power, transportation, or other public services. In Pennsylvania, a conviction for a third-degree felony carries fines of $2,500 to $15,000 and up to seven years in prison.
Pennsylvania law doesn't allow sealing or expungement of a felony conviction for criminal mischief, except in very limited cases. However, you may be eligible to apply for a Governor's pardon. If the Governor grants you a pardon, you may then expunge your criminal record. However, you'll need an experienced pardon, expungement, and sealing attorney to help you through the process.
Automatic Sealing for Criminal Mischief Records Through Clean Slate
In 2019, Pennsylvania passed the state's groundbreaking Clean Slate records law. Under the new Clean Slate law, Pennsylvania courts must automatically seal your records ten years after you complete your sentence. You may be eligible if you don't have any additional convictions for crimes that are punishable by a year or more in prison.
Under Clean Slate, the state will automatically seal your records if:
- You weren't convicted of a charge, including dismissals and not guilty verdicts,
- You only have a summary conviction,
- Your conviction was for a second or third-degree misdemeanor,
- Your conviction is for any eligible misdemeanor punishable by two years or less in prison.
Sealing Your Criminal Mischief Record with an Act 5 Petition
Under Pennsylvania's Act 5, sealing won't happen automatically. You will need to petition a court to seal your records. However, more people are eligible for Act 5 sealing because it applies to a wider range of convictions than Clean Slate. Act 5 allows you to seal misdemeanors and other ungraded offenses if they are punishable by five years or less in prison. However, Clean Slate only allows you to seal misdemeanors punishable by two years or less, making more people eligible for Act 5 sealing.
Act 5 sealing eligibility requires a ten-year waiting period after completing your sentence and that:
- You finished your sentence, including paying all fines and
- You don't have any arrests or prosecutions for any additional crime punishable by a year or more in jail.
You Need a Skilled Pennsylvania Sealing Attorney
Navigating the labyrinth of Pennsylvania's expungement and sealing eligibility requirements while determining your best options can be challenging on your own. That's why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled legal team at the Lento Law Firm have helped many people in Pennsylvania seal or expunge their records over the years. They can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact them online today.