If you're facing a conviction for theft or already have a theft-related conviction on your record, you may already know how a criminal conviction can impact your future, career, and education. Even a misdemeanor theft conviction could follow you for a decade or more.
Luckily, in Pennsylvania, we believe in second chances. Under state law, you have several options to clean up your criminal record, whether through expungement or sealing. While an expungement may remove your court or arrest records from state files, not everyone can qualify for expungement. Many more people may qualify to seal their records, which limits public access to them. Under Pennsylvania's Clean Slate law, sometimes the sealing process may happen automatically.
Pennsylvania Theft Statutes and Penalties
In Pennsylvania, theft is a broad category of crimes that includes both felony and misdemeanor charges. However, misdemeanor theft charges include:
- Theft by unlawful taking or disposition
- Theft by deception
- Financial exploitation of an older adult or care-dependent person
- Theft by extortion
- Theft of property lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake
- Receiving stolen property
- Theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received
- Theft of unpublished dramas and musical compositions
- Theft of leased property
See 18 Pa. Stat. § § 3921-3925, 3927, 3931-3932. Whether a theft charge is a misdemeanor or a felony can depend on the value of what was stolen, whether the theft happened in violation of a fiduciary duty, and whether it's a first or subsequent offense.
Theft is typically a first-degree misdemeanor unless it:
- Involves an auto, boat, motorcycle, or exceeds $2,000 in value
- Was taken by threat or in violation of a fiduciary duty
- Occurred during a natural or manmade disaster, during war, involves a firearm or anhydrous ammonia
The police will charge the above crimes as felony theft.
- First-degree Misdemeanor: Theft is by default a first-degree misdemeanor. A first-degree misdemeanor theft conviction in Pennsylvania is punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and 18 months in jail.
- Second-degree Misdemeanor: Theft becomes a second-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania if the amount involved was $50 or more and less than $200 and you didn't take the property by force or in violation of a fiduciary duty. A second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The court may use aggregated values of property stolen “pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct,” whether committed by one person or multiple people, in determining the grade of the theft.
Sealing Your Theft or Theft-Related Record in Pennsylvania
Depending on the grade of your theft-related conviction, you may have several options to seal your criminal record. The state may automatically seal your record if you qualify under Pennsylvania's Clean Slate legislation. If not, you may be eligible to apply to seal your record through a petition for limited access under Act 5.
Under Pennsylvania law, you have several options for sealing a shoplifting conviction, depending on the grading of the crime. In some cases, you may be eligible for automatic record sealing through Pennsylvania's legislation. Even if you aren't eligible for automatic sealing, you may be able to petition to seal your record under the state's Act 5 legislation.
Automatic Sealing Under Clean Slate Legislation
Several years ago, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a new Clean Slate law that directs the courts to automatically seal or limit your records from public view ten years after you've completed your sentence. To qualify, you must remain free from conviction of any additional crimes punishable by a year or more in jail.
Under Clean Slate, the court will automatically seal charges when:
- Your charge doesn't end in a conviction
- Your conviction was a summary offense
- Your conviction is a second or third-degree misdemeanor
- Your conviction was a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by two years or less in prison
Act 5 Record Sealing
While Act 5 sealing won't happen automatically like Clean Slate, Act 5 will apply to a wider range of convictions. Clean Slate will allow the sealing of misdemeanors punishable by two years or less, but under Act 5, you may seal misdemeanors and ungraded offenses punishable by five years or less.
For these misdemeanors, you can use Act 5 to petition the court to seal your records if:
- You've completed your sentence and paid all fines
- You've remained free from arrest or prosecution for crimes punishable by one or more years in jail
- It's been ten years since you completed your sentence
Waiting Periods for Sealing a Theft or Theft-Related Conviction
If you have a theft-related conviction for a second or third-degree misdemeanor or a first-degree misdemeanor punished by fewer than two years in prison, you will probably qualify for limited public access automatically under Clean Slate. The state should seal your record ten years after you complete your sentence; if you don't have any additional convictions punished by a year or more in jail.
If you have a summary conviction for theft, you may be eligible to petition the court to seal your record with Act 5 sealing sooner than with Clean Slate. The waiting period for sealing summary offenses is only five years in Pennsylvania. However, most thefts in Pennsylvania under the above statutes are at least second or third-degree misdemeanors, which are eligible for sealing after ten years under both Clean Slate and Act 5. You can apply to seal a first-degree misdemeanor theft or theft-related offense under Act 5, as long as it was punishable by five years or less, ten years after you complete your sentence.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Sealing Attorney
If you have a theft conviction on your record, figuring out the best option to clean up your record can be complex. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his skilled legal team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping Pennsylvanians clean up their criminal records for years. 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.