Don't Take a Summary Offense Lightly

Although penalties for summary offenses lack the severity of a misdemeanor or felony charge, you can still face jail time. If convicted, you now have a criminal record that could impact your life. Our Montgomery County criminal defense lawyers can help determine your best options if you are charged with a crime.

What is a Summary Offense?

A summary offense, often called a "petty offense" or "infraction," is the least severe type of criminal offense. Nonetheless, it is a criminal offense, and it's important to remember that.

Typically, the offenses are minor, resulting in minimal harm or damage. In many cases, they don't require a formal court trial.

Traffic violations can be summary offenses governed by the PA Motor Vehicle Code. For example, illegal parking, speeding, and running a red light represent such offenses in Pennsylvania.

The criminal code governs non-traffic offenses. You can view a list of those covered here. Some examples include:

  • Dangerous burning
  • Criminal mischief
  • Trespass
  • Retail theft
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Sale of tobacco to minors
  • Carrying a false ID card
  • Use of tobacco in schools

Even though many of these violations seem minor, it's best to consult with a criminal defense attorney.

Summary Offense Charges

A police officer charges you with the violation through a citation. However, you may receive that citation at the scene of the incident or through the mail. Once received, you have ten days to respond. Failing to respond could leads to the court issuing a bench arrest.

Otherwise, you can plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. As a result, you may want to consult with a criminal lawyer to determine your best route.

If you plead guilty, you must pay the fine. But, if you plead not guilty, the court sets a hearing date.

Penalties if Convicted

Title 30 governs the classes and penalties for summary offenses in Pennsylvania. If charged and convicted, the law reflects these penalties:

  • First Degree: A fine of $250 or imprisonment not exceeding 90 days
  • Second Degree: A fine of $150 or imprisonment not exceeding 20 days
  • Third Degree: A fine of $75
  • Fourth Degree: A fine of $25

If charged with a summary offense, it represents a criminal case. Talking to a criminal defense lawyer is in your best interest.

Summary Offenses Versus Misdemeanors

Some people think a summary offense is the same as a misdemeanor. But, there are fundamental differences you need to be aware of.

First, summary offenses are the least severe crimes with the least severe penalties. Misdemeanor crimes are more severe with much stiffer penalties. For example, PA courts can sentence you to five years in prison, with fines up to $10,000 for an M1 misdemeanor.

Second, you can often settle summary offense cases outside court. Whereas, misdemeanors often require a court appearance and often represented by a criminal defense lawyer.

Third, summary offenses may or may not appear on your criminal record. If they do, they could remain there for five years. Misdemeanor crimes are more difficult to erase.

Expunging a Summary Offense Conviction

It's possible to have a summary offense expunged from your criminal record.

If you are under 18 at the time of your offense, you can request the courts expunge the crime when you turn 18. Additionally, you must have paid the fine.

After 18, it gets more complicated, as you must wait five years. During that time, you must have no other arrests or charges.

Why Speak with a Criminal Offense Lawyer?

Even though a summary offense might seem minor, facing any legal challenge without proper representation can have unintended consequences. Here's why it's crucial to consult a summary offense lawyer:

  1. Experience: A lawyer can clarify the local laws and penalties.
  2. Protection: A criminal lawyer can ensure the protection of your rights.
  3. Penalties: A lawyer might be able to negotiate reduced fines or alternative penalties.
  4. Complications: Multiple summary offenses can accumulate, leading to more severe consequences. Proper representation can help avoid such situations.
  5. Peace of Mind: Facing the legal system can be daunting but having a criminal defense lawyer ensures you have a guide throughout the process.

Montgomery County Criminal Defense Lawyers

We represent clients in Montgomery County, Bucks County, and greater Philadelphia. Our criminal defense lawyers can support you with summary offenses, misdemeanor charges, and drug offenses.

High Swartz is a recognized leading law firm with law offices in Norristown and Doylestown, PA. The Best Lawyers in America© 2024 edition recognized 11 of our firm's attorneys. You can depend on our lawyers to get you the best results.

Summary Offenses Attorneys

John S. Han

John Han | Criminal Defense lawyer | Greater Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Criminal defense attorney John S. Han represents clients facing investigation and prosecution by both State and Federal Law Enforcement authorities for felony criminal violations.

Michael A. Luongo

Michael A. Luongo business litigation attorney in High Swartz's doylestown law office

Bucks county Business Litigation attorney Michael A. Luongo also practices personal injury, criminal defense, and in our PA municipal practice.

Shari R. Gelfont Williams

shari gelfont williams at high swartz llp doylestown law office

Bucks County Attorney with 25+ years' experience in litigation with a focus on family law, estate planning, and business disputes.

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