Summary Offenses

In Pennsylvania, summary charges are the least serious charges in the Pennsylvania criminal justice system. The ranking of criminal offenses in Pennsylvania from the most serious to least serious is as follows:

  • Felony 1st Degree
  • Felony 2nd Degree
  • Felony 3rd Degree
  • Misdemeanor 1st Degree
  • Misdemeanor 2nd Degree
  • Misdemeanor 3rd Degree
  • Summary Offense.

As you can see, summary offenses fall on the bottom of the totem pole as far as the seriousness of crimes. Summary offense include traffic citations such as speeding tickets and other vehicle code violations. Summary offenses can also include non-traffic violations such as Harassment, Disorderly Conduct, Bad Checks and Retail Theft. Though summary charges are not as serious as misdemeanors and felonies, hey should be taken seriously. Non-traffic summary offenses will appear in a criminal background check and traffic citations will appear on your driving record. The maximum penalty for a non-traffic summary charge is 90 days incarceration and a $300.00 fine.

Summary Charges: What to Expect When Litigating a Summary Charge in Pennsylvania

If charged with a summary, the police officer will typically write you a citation. You have 10 days to plead not guilty to the charge. Be sure to follow the instructions on the back of the citation. When pleading not guilty, you will be required to post what is called collateral. The court requires you to pay your citation in advance. If you are found NOT guilty at the court hearing, your money will be refunded to you.

When you are charged with a summary, your local District Court will have jurisdiction over the case. District Court is more informal than the Court of Common Pleas. District judges are not required to be attorneys. On the day of your case, your attorney should speak with the police officer before the hearing and request that he dismiss the charge, allow you to plead to a lesser charge or reduce the fine. If the police officer is not receptive to this, it may be in your best interests to take your summary case to a trial. A typical summary trial does not take long. The police officer and any witnesses that he wishes to call will take the witness stand first. Your attorney will be given the opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses. Once the Commonwealth finishes its case-in-chief, you and any of your witnesses will take the witness stand. You and your witnesses will also be subject to cross-examination by the police officer. At that point, both sides will be given the opportunity to make closing arguments before the district judge. You will deliver your closing argument first and the police officer will deliver his last. Once closing arguments have concluded, the judge will render a decision and sentence you if you are found guilty.

If you retain a skilled trial attorney in a summary case, you have advantage from the start. Ninety nine times out one hundred, a police officer will be prosecuting the case. Very rarely will an Assistant District Attorney show up to prosecute your case in District Court. Police officers are not attorneys and have limited training in evidentiary and substantive law matters. From my experience police officers have hard time litigating against skilled trial lawyers due to problems understanding the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence. For this reason alone, it is worth it to hire an attorney. Even if feel you are guilty, it is worth it to have your day in court. Many times a plea deal can be worked out.

In the event you are found guilty of the summary offense to District Court, you have 30 days to appeal your case to the Court of Common Pleas. Even if you plead guilty to the summary offense before consulting an attorney, you still have a right to appeal your case to the Court of Common Pleas 30 days from the date of the guilty plea. You must submit a summary appeal form to the Clerk of Courts or Office of Judicial Support in your local county courthouse. When you submit this summary appeal form, you must pay the requisite filing fee. You will then be assigned a court date with a Court of Common Pleas judge. Common Pleas judges are required to be licensed attorneys. Typically, an Assistant District Attorney will also be in court to assist the police in prosecuting summary appeal matters. In the Court of Common Pleas you have the right to a trial de novo. This means that you get a new trial and get to start all over again. You will be able to go through the entire process that occurred at District Court. The same rules of evidence and procedure apply. The Assistant District Attorney has the ability to offer you a plea bargain on your summary appeal trial date.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a summary offense, please contact Jason R. Antoine Attorney at Law PLLC at (610) 299-0295 or by email at jra@penn-law.com. My office has years of experience prosecuting summary cases as a former Assistant District Attorney and as defense attorney in private practice.

My office represents citizens charged with summary charges including but not limited to: