When you have a criminal conviction in your past, even if it's a misdemeanor conviction, you probably already know that a criminal record can follow you for a long time. While a conviction for interfering with child custody may seem like it shouldn't be a big deal, the penalties can be serious.
Fortunately, the people of Pennsylvania believe in second chances. Under Pennsylvania law, you may be able to seal or expunge your criminal record through several processes. You may be familiar with expungements, which can destroy court or arrest records through a court order, but not everyone will qualify for expungement. However, you may still qualify to seal your interference with child custody conviction, limiting public access to your records. With Pennsylvania's new Clean Slate law, the state may even seal your record automatically.
Pennsylvania Interference With Custody of Children Statute
You may face charges for interference with child custody in Pennsylvania if you “knowingly or recklessly” take a child under 18 from the custody of their parent or guardian when you “have no privilege to do so.” Interference with the custody of a child in Pennsylvania can be either a felony or a misdemeanor charge. The grading of the charge will depend on many factors, including:
- The seriousness of the offense
- Whether there are any legitimate defenses
- Whether the defendant acted with knowledge of the harm or alarm it would cause
- Whether the defendant is a parent or custodian
- Whether there is a valid custody order in place
See 18 Pa. Stat. § 2904 (1984).
Defenses to interference with child custody exist if:
- The defendant believed the action was needed to protect the child from danger
- The child was between 14 and 17 and went with the defendant of their own volition, without the instigation of the defendant, and without intent to commit a crime against or with the child
- The defendant is the child's parent or guardian and isn't acting in defiance of a court order
Felony Interference With Child Custody Charges
- Third-degree Felony: Interference with the custody of a child in Pennsylvania is typically a third-degree felony.
- Second-degree Felony: Interference with the custody of a child becomes a second-degree felony if the defendant wasn't a parent or equivalent guardian to the child and they acted “with knowledge that [their] conduct would cause serious alarm for the safety of the child, or in reckless disregard of a likelihood of causing such alarm.”
You cannot seal a felony conviction in Pennsylvania. However, in some cases, you may be eligible to seek a pardon from the Governor. You may expunge or seal your record if you have a felony conviction pardoned. Experienced expungement and sealing attorney Joseph D. Lento can help you with this process.
Misdemeanor Interference With Child Custody Charges
Interference with the custody of a child is a second-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania when the defendant acted with good cause for less than 24 hours and:
- There is a valid custody order issued by a Pennsylvania court in place for the child
- The defendant has partial custody or visitation under the custody order
- The defendant is a resident of Pennsylvania and didn't take the child out of the state
A second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
Sealing Your Misdemeanor Interference With Child Custody Record in Pennsylvania
Depending on the grade of your conviction for interference with child custody, you may qualify for several sealing options. Pennsylvania's Clean Slate legislation may allow the state to seal your record automatically. If you don't qualify for automatic sealing, you may still be eligible to apply to seal your arrest or court records using a petition for limited access under Act 5.
Automatic Sealing Through Clean Slate
In 2019, a groundbreaking records law went into effect in Pennsylvania. Under the new Clean Slate law, the courts will automatically seal your records, limiting public access ten years after you've completed your sentence and paid all fines. To be eligible, you must be free from convictions for additional crimes that could be punished by a year or more in prison.
The new Clean Slate law will automatically seal your charges if:
- Your charge didn't end in a conviction, such as dropped charges or a not guilty verdict
- You had a summary conviction
- You have a conviction for a second or third-degree misdemeanor
- You have a conviction for a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by two years or less in prison
Seal Your Record With an Act 5 Petition
Act 5 sealing is not an automatic process; you must petition the court to seal your record. However, unlike Clean Slate sealing, Act 5 applies to a much wider range of convictions and records. Under Act 5, you can seal misdemeanors and other ungraded offenses that are punishable by five years or less. However, Clean Slate only allows the sealing of misdemeanors punishable by two years or less.
You may be eligible to use Act 5 to petition the court to seal your misdemeanor records when:
- Your sentence is complete, and you've paid all fines
- You have remained free from prosecution or arrest for crimes punishable by a year or more in jail
- You have waited ten years since completing your sentence
Waiting Periods for Sealing an Interference With Child Custody Record
You may qualify for limited access Clean Slate automatic sealing if you have a second-degree misdemeanor conviction for interference with custody or a first-degree misdemeanor conviction punished by fewer than two years in prison. The state should automatically seal your record ten years after the completion of your sentence if you qualify.
Most convictions for interference with custody in Pennsylvania are felonies or second-degree misdemeanors under the abovementioned statutes. Felonies are not eligible for sealing, but a second-degree misdemeanor conviction for interference with custody may be eligible for sealing under both Clean Slate and Act 5 after ten years.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Sealing Attorney
Determining the best options for cleaning up your record can be challenging if you have a conviction for interfering with child custody on your record. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled team at the Lento Law Firm have helped many Pennsylvanians seal and expunge their records. They can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact them online today.