Friday, August 29, 2014

Grading of Offenses - Summary, Misdemeanor and Felonies. Part 1.

In Pennsylvania criminal offenses are generally categorized into one of three grades. Summary offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies. The major differences between these grades is the "seriousness" of the offense and the possible range of sentences that may be imposed. There are certain exceptions to this general rule and some offenses have their own special sentencing scheme, but the vast majority of crimes can be classified in this way.

Summary Offenses are the lowest level of criminal acts. These are mostly traffic tickets and the like, but also includes some retail theft charges, disorderly conduct and possession of some controlled substances such as marijuana. The maximum possible penalty that can be imposed for a summary offense is $300 and/or 90 days in prison. Most convictions for summary offenses do not result in imprisonment, but there are some that are more serious than others. For example while a speeding ticket is likely to result in a simple fine the summary offense of driving without a license that was suspended for a previous DUI actually carries with it mandatory imprisonment.

Summary offenses can also carry with them "collateral consequences." These are supposed civil penalties that someone can suffer in addition to the criminal penalties. Points on a person's driver license or a suspension for excessive speeding are such consequences. The tricky part of these collateral consequences is that they are rarely spelled out prior to a guilty plea and are not mentioned on traffic tickets. A person could therefore find him/herself in the position of pleading guilty and assuming the only penalty is a fine but then receive notice of a license suspension a month or more later.

Even though the fine may not be too serious and the cost of hiring an attorney may outweigh the fine a person accused of a summary offense should still consult with a lawyer to ensure he or she does not suffer significant collateral consequences.

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