People make mistakes. Your cat could unknowingly get locked outside in the cold; if your neighbors call animal control or the police, you could find yourself facing charges for neglect of an animal in Pennsylvania. When you're facing criminal charges, your biggest concern may be ensuring you don't end up in jail or just leaving this all behind you. It can be tempting to plead guilty or accept a plea from the prosecutor without consulting a lawyer. At the time, it can be difficult to understand the long-term impact of a criminal conviction, even for lower-level summary offenses and misdemeanor charges. But having a criminal record can impact you for years to come. In some cases, even a misdemeanor offense can restrict your career and educational opportunities or keep you from volunteering in your community. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, there are some options to clean up your record.
Expungement is typically the most thorough option for cleaning up a criminal record. Expungement destroys your records, ensuring they can't become public. However, few people qualify to expunge their records under Pennsylvania law. As an alternative, you may be able to seal your records under Pennsylvania's Clean Slate or Act 5 legislation. While sealing your records won't destroy them, it will remove them from public access and keep many employers from seeing them in the future.
Charges for Neglecting an Animal in Pennsylvania
You can face charges for neglecting an animal in Pennsylvania if you don't provide for the basic needs of an animal you're caring for, whether it belongs to you or not. Basic needs include:
- Necessary sustenance and potable water.
- Access to clean and sanitary shelter and protection from the weather. The shelter must be sufficient to permit the animal to retain body heat and keep the animal dry.
- Necessary veterinary care.
18 Pa. Stat. § 5532 (2018).
Penalties for Neglecting an Animal in Pennsylvania
Typically, neglecting an animal is a summary offense in Pennsylvania. A summary offense is a lower-level offense, less serious than a misdemeanor or felony. A summary conviction is punishable by up to 90 days in jail, up to a $300 fine, and restitution for any damage or loss. However, you can face a third-degree misdemeanor if your neglect “causes bodily injury to the animal or places the animal at imminent risk of serious bodily injury.” A third-degree misdemeanor conviction can result in fines of $250 to $5,000 and up to 90 days in prison.
Sealing Your Record for Neglecting an Animal with Clean Slate
Sealing your record can remove it from public access, but the records will still exist. They just won't be available for employers and schools in most cases. Until recently, sealing your record involved a more bureaucratic process, and many eligible people didn't seal their records. As a result, the Pennsylvania legislature passed new legislation making the process easier. This 2019 “Clean Slate” law allows the state to automatically seal the records of those that qualify in ten years. You may qualify for automatic sealing if:
- Your conviction is for a second or third-degree misdemeanor or a summary conviction,
- You have an ungraded misdemeanor conviction punishable by no more than five years in prison, or
- You don't have a conviction because the charges were dropped or the court found you not guilty.
With a misdemeanor conviction for neglect of an animal, you'll have to wait ten years after completing your sentence for automatic sealing. But for a summary offense, the waiting period is five years. With no conviction, the state will typically automatically seal your records after 18 months. With a juvenile conviction, your waiting period may vary. If you have a conviction for a summary offense for neglect of an animal, you may qualify to automatically seal your record under Clean Slate. However, you may qualify to expunge your record as well. You may qualify to expunge your record if:
- You wait at least five years after completing your sentence and paying your fines, and
- You don't have any additional arrests or prosecutions during the waiting period.
If you have a juvenile record, the qualifications for sealing or expunging your record will vary. If you have a juvenile conviction, you should talk to an experienced expungement and sealing attorney to discuss your options.
Sealing Your Neglect of an Animal Record with an Act 5 Petition
Even if you don't qualify to seal your record automatically with Clean Slate, you may be eligible to petition the court to limit public access to your record. Act 5 petitions don't happen automatically, but it applies to more convictions, including many misdemeanors. You may qualify for Act 5 sealing if:
- You wait a minimum of ten years after completing your sentence,
- You were convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by no more than five years in prison, and
- You don't have any other convictions or arrests for crimes that can result in a year or more in prison.
Ensuring that the sealing process happens as efficiently as possible can be challenging. That's why it's a good idea to discuss your case with an experienced sealing and expungement attorney.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Sealing and Expungement Attorney
If you have a criminal record for animal neglect and want to ensure it doesn't limit your future opportunities, you should discuss your options with a skilled criminal defense attorney. A lawyer well-versed in handling sealing and expungement matters can examine your case, discuss your options, and handle the bureaucratic details on your behalf. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has been helping Pennsylvanians clean up their criminal records for years. He and the Lento Law Firm team have handled many sealing matters, and they can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact them online today.