Summary offenses may seem like a small matter that will go away if you pay the fine. But paying the fine means admitting guilt, and you could wind up with a criminal record that will follow you the rest of your life.
Being charged with a summary offense means you were charged with a crime. Minor crimes such as underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and petty shoplifting are often tried as summary offenses.
Summary offenses are typically punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.
A police officer can issue a summary offense (citation) at the time of the offense, during an arrest or even days later in the mail.
Summary offenses should not be taken lightly and can be fought in court.
If you pay the fine, that means you will be pleading guilty and therefore may end up with a criminal record.
Although summary offense crimes are considered lesser crimes than a DUI (which is a misdemeanor), pleading guilty or being convicted of a summary offense still has the potential to cause great harm to your future.
Pleading Guilty to Summary Offenses
If you are convicted of a summary offense or plead guilty (pay the fine), the conviction could be made public and searchable by anyone running a background check: future employers, landlords and financial lenders, college admission personnel, the military or government clearance.
If you have a lawyer help to get your record expunged or appealed, your record could be wiped clean, but this still will take time.
In addition, most summary offenses are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine. For underage drinking offenses or traffic citations your license could also be suspended.
If you received more than one summary offense at a time, these penalties will add up – you could be punished for up to six months in jail for two summary offenses.
What Happens After You Are Charged With a Summary Offense?
A citation for a summary offense may have been issued by the police officer at the time you were charged with a crime, but an officer may also issue a citation in the mail. In either case, you were charged with a crime.
In situations such as an arrest for disorderly conduct or public drunkenness, the person charged will be taken to jail and then a hearing will ensue, which could happen immediately or at a later date.
If you were charged with retail theft, you may be fingerprinted and therefore will have a criminal record. This could severely limit your chances of finding employment in the future.
If you fail to respond to a Summary Offense Citation in Pennsylvania, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
Even if you plan on pleading guilty, you should contact an experienced criminal attorney right away for a free consultation — a lawyer can help with the proceedings that follow and the hearing and may be able to negotiate a reduction of charges and punishment.
If you have already pled guilty, there may still be time to make an appeal but you should contact a lawyer right away as there are time restrictions on how long after a conviction you can make an appeal.
For more information see the Pennsylvania Code for Procedures in Summary Cases.
You can also refer to the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Consumer Legal Information Pamphlet on Traffic Violations and Summary Offenses.
List of Summary Offenses in Pennsylvania
- A few of the most common summary offense include:
- Disorderly Conduct
- Underage Drinking
- Public Drunkenness / Public Intoxication
- Public Urination
- Retail Theft (First offense, below $150 value)
- Service Theft (Under $50)
- Using Shopping Carts Illegally
- Not Adhering to Dog Laws
- Ticket Scalping
- Criminal Mischief
- Opening Fire Hydrants
- Defiant Trespassing
Obstructing a Highway
- Retention of Library Property after Notice to Return
- Traffic Offenses
Expungement means having the arrest or conviction removed from your permanent criminal record. Don’t give in by paying the fine – fight to keep your record clean. Contact an experienced Pittsburgh summary offense lawyer for a free consultation.