Summary Offenses

In Pennsylvania, all charges are classified under a ranking of criminal offenses from most serious to least serious. Summary offenses fall lowest on the totem pole of severe crimes, trailing behind felony and misdemeanor crimes. Although they are perceived as minor, summary offenses should still be taken seriously. Despite it being a minor crime, being charged with a summary offense still means that a person has been charged with a crime. Non-traffic summary offenses will still appear on a background check, and traffic violations will show up on your driving record. Acquiring this offense may also lead to jail time and costly fines.

If you've been cited with a summary offense, it is still completely necessary for you to retain an attorney. Your lawyer can explain the charge to you, help you prepare for going before a judge, reduce your fines, and help keep you out of jail. Pleading guilty or being convicted of a summary offense still has the potential to cause great harm to your future.

What is a Summary Offense?

A summary offense is the most minor type of criminal offense in Pennsylvania. They are generally divided into three sections: (1) summary traffic offenses, (2) non-traffic summary offenses, and (3) summary offenses under the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code.

Because non-traffic summary offenses look very similar to traffic citations, people elect to do what they do when they get a traffic citation: plead guilty and pay the fine. But doing so has consequences. A guilty plea to a summary offense will result in a minor criminal conviction on your record, and it will be available for employers, educational institutions, and professional licensure boards to review in the future.

A wide range of crimes can be classified as a summary offense in Pennsylvania. They include:

PA Statute

Name of Offense

18. Pa. Con. Stat. § 6308

Underage Drinking

18. Pa. Con. Stat. § 5503

Public Urination

18. Pa. Con. Stat. § 5505

Public Drunkenness / Intoxication

18. Pa. Con. Stat. §3304

Criminal Mischief

18. Pa. Con. Stat. § 2709

Harassment

18. Pa. Con. Stat. § 3929

Retail Theft (less than $150 value)

18. Pa. Con. Stat. § 3503(b)

Defiant Trespassing

18. Pa. Con. Stat. § 6910

Ticket Scalping

18. Pa. Con. Stat. § 3502

Trespass

PA Vehicle Code 3112

Failure To Stop for a Red Light

PA Vehicle Code 3323(b)

Failure To Stop for a Stop Sign

A summary offense may be cited in person by a police officer or by mail. Regardless of how it was acquired, a citation informs a person that they have been charged with a crime. If the crime involves a defendant making a public spectacle, like being intoxicated in public, or displaying actions that constitute disorderly conduct, a person will be taken to jail. If a person receives a citation in the mail and disregards it, a warrant may be issued by a judge for his or her arrest.

What To Do If Charged With a Summary Offense in PA 

When you receive a summary citation, you will be given a window of ten days to respond by pleading either guilty or not guilty to this offense. As indicated above, ignoring a citation won't make it go away, and will lead to a warrant for your arrest. However, the pressure of a short deadline shouldn't compel you to make a compulsive decision. Some people think they are taking the easy way out by opting to mail in a guilty plea. But this doesn't make this issue go away. In your specific case, you might be facing serious penalties - including jail time - or whatever sentence the court decides to give you.

Before making a final decision, it would be in your best interest to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you choose a course of action that is best for you by weighing your options, coming up with possible defenses, and even recommending diversionary programs that allow you to take accountability while keeping your record clean.

If you decide to plead not guilty and fight the charge, you will receive notice of a hearing date scheduled in the near future. But this decision doesn't have to be final. You will have the chance to change your plea on the hearing date if you choose to, although it may cost you extra fees to cover the cost of the hearing.

Summary Offense Penalties

In Pennsylvania, the typical summary offense is punishable by a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $300 fine, although specific fines may vary for certain offenses.

Some summary offenses have additional legal penalties attached to them. A conviction for the crime of underage drinking, for example, carries a mandatory license suspension.

Can A Summary Offense Be Expunged?

The good news is that a summary offense can be expunged. An expungement completely removes this charge and conviction from your record. A person's eligibility for expungement is dependent on the unique circumstances of their case.

Obviously, if you were not convicted, you can expunge the charges of a summary offense immediately. If you were under the age of 18 when you were convicted of this crime, and are over the age of 18 now, you can get it expunged six months after paying your fine. If you were an adult at the time of the offense and were convicted, it will take five years from the date your case was successfully closed before you are eligible for expungement.

Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney

If you've been charged with a summary offense in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you should act fast. Get the legal assistance you need to achieve the best outcome possible for you, which could include in a sentence reduction or the complete dismissal of your charges. Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience helping clients in this situation overcome their charges, and he can do the same for you. For more questions about his representation, or for a case evaluation, contact him today online or by phone at (215) 535-5355.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has nearly a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania and New Jersey attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations – the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, Outside of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance is educational advice, and does not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.

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