A criminal conviction for criminal trespass on your record can be a serious issue, even for a misdemeanor conviction. Your record may come up professionally and during background checks, affecting your education and career. While “trespassing” seems like an innocuous crime, a conviction can carry serious penalties.
Luckily there are options to clean up your misdemeanor record for criminal trespass under Pennsylvania law. You may be eligible to seal or expunge your record through several options available under state law. While sealing your record won't eliminate the files, it can allow you to remove your misdemeanor convictions from public view.
Pennsylvania Criminal Trespass Statute
You can face criminal trespass charges in Pennsylvania if you enter or break into a building, occupied structure, or separately secured portion of a building knowing you don't have permission. “Break into” means gaining entry by “force, breaking, intimidation,” opening locks without authorization or through an opening not meant for human access. Unauthorized access also includes remaining in the building surreptitiously or gaining access using subterfuge. 18 Pa. Stat. § 3503 (2022).
Whether criminal trespass is a misdemeanor or felony depends in part on:
- How you entered the building or structure
- Whether you are a simple, agricultural, agricultural biosecurity area or a “defiant trespasser”
- Whether you cause property damage or other harm during the trespass
- Typically, breaking into a building, entering by subterfuge, or surreptitiously remaining in a building is either a second or third-degree felony
You may face charges as a “defiant trespasser” if:
- Someone actually communicated to you that you were trespassing by:
- Posting as required by law or in a way that should have reasonably come to your attention
- Fencing or using an enclosure designed to exclude intruders or by painting purple marks on trees or posts on the property.
Defiant criminal trespass is considered less serious and doesn't involve breaking into or entering a building. Defiant trespassing would be a third-degree misdemeanor if someone communicated an order to you to leave the premises. Otherwise, it is a summary offense under Pennsylvania law.
You may also be a defiant trespasser if a school posts a notice at each school entrance or communicates to you that you must leave. Defiant trespassing at a school is typically a first-degree misdemeanor.
You may face charges as a “simple trespasser” if you enter or remain somewhere to:
- Threaten or terrorize the owner or occupant
- Start or cause a fire on the premises
- Defacing or damaging the premises
As a “simple trespasser,” criminal trespass is a summary offense, although you may face additional charges with more serious penalties.
You may face charges as an agricultural trespasser when entering open or agricultural lands, knowing that you don't have permission to do so as long as there are signs or markings posted as the law requires or in a way reasonably likely for you to see or if the lands are fenced or enclosed to keep trespassers out or confine animals. You can also face agricultural trespassing charges if you enter or remain on land after the owner or an authorized person personally tells you to leave. You can face second or third-degree misdemeanor charges for agricultural criminal trespass.
Agricultural Biosecurity Area Trespasser
You may face charges as an “agricultural biosecurity area” trespasser if you enter a “biosecurity area” without permission and fail to take reasonable measures for biosecurity that are posted for entry. An “agricultural biosecurity area” is an agricultural area or a building, plant, or animal containment area. Criminal trespass in an agricultural biosecurity area is typically a third-degree misdemeanor unless someone enters to respond to a condition they reasonably believe is a serious health threat to an animal or person. Then it is a summary offense.
The court will enhance any sentence for criminal trespass if you harm or kill a domestic animal during the crime.
Felony Criminal Trespass Charges
- Third-degree Felony: If you enter a building by subterfuge or remain inside secretly, it is typically a third-degree felony.
- Second-degree Felony: Criminal trespass is typically a second-degree felony if you break into a building or occupied structure.
Under Pennsylvania law, you can't seal a felony conviction for criminal trespass. However, you may be able to apply for a pardon from the Governor. If the Governor pardons you, you may then apply to seal or expunge your criminal record. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced pardon, expungement, and sealing attorney who can help you with the process.
Misdemeanor Criminal Trespass Charges
Most convictions for criminal trespass that don't involve breaking into a building, subterfuge, or clandestinely remaining in a building are misdemeanors or summary offenses. You may be eligible to seal a misdemeanor or summary offense conviction under one of several options available under Pennsylvania law. Under the state's new Clean Slate legislation, the state will automatically seal your record in some situations. Even if you don't qualify for automatic sealing, Act 5 may allow you to petition a court for limited access to your arrest or court records. You may also be eligible to expunge your record if you have only a summary conviction.
Automatic Sealing Through Clean Slate
In 2019, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a groundbreaking records law. Under the state's new Clean Slate law, the courts will automatically seal your records ten years after you complete your sentence. You may be eligible if you don't have any convictions for additional crimes punished by a year or more in prison.
Under Clean Slate, your record may be automatically sealed if:
- You weren't convicted after a charge
- You were convicted of a summary offense
- You were convicted of a second or third-degree misdemeanor
- You were convicted of any eligible misdemeanor punishable by two years or less in prison
Sealing Your Record With an Act 5 Petition
Act 5 sealing does not happen automatically. Instead, you must petition a court to seal your records. But Act 5 applies to a wider range of convictions than Clean Slate, allowing you to seal misdemeanors and other ungraded offenses that are punishable by five years or less. In contrast, Clean Slate only allows you to seal misdemeanors punishable by two years or less.
Act 5 sealing eligibility requires that:
- You completed your sentence and paid all fines
- It's been ten years since you completed your sentence
- You haven't been arrested or prosecuted for any additional crime punishable by a year or more in jail
You Need an Experienced Pennsylvania Sealing Attorney
Figuring out your options for cleaning up a criminal record for trespass in Pennsylvania can be complicated. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have helped many people in Pennsylvania seal or expunge their records. Find out how they can help you. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact them online today.