What is the Difference Between a Summary Offense and a Misdemeanor?

The legal system classifies offenses based on their severity, with a summary offense as the lowest level and a misdemeanor in the middle. A felony offense is the most severe, and there are different levels of misdemeanor and felony crimes. It is important to understand what a summary offense is and how it compares to a misdemeanor charge in court. Each state has its own definitions of these criminal actions.

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What a Summary Offense Is

A summary offense is a minor crime. It is sometimes called a non-traffic citation. Some states use this category for classifying crimes, while others do not. Some examples of a summary offense include loitering, disorderly conduct, retail theft of a minor value or dollar amount or not licensing a dog. Most summary offenses result in a fine for a conviction. A person convicted of a summary offense may not have to go to court. The police officer’s own observation of the situation may be sufficient for summary offense conviction.

What a Misdemeanor Offense Is

A misdemeanor offense is more severe than a summary offense, infraction or citation but less severe than a felony. Most states have different classes of misdemeanor offenses. The lowest classes might involve fines, probation or community service for a conviction. The higher levels of misdemeanor offenses may include jail time for a conviction. A person sentenced to incarceration related to a misdemeanor conviction would serve the sentence in a jail, while felony sentences are served in prisons. Misdemeanor sentences are typically less than 365 days.

Summary Offenses and Criminal Records

Laws vary but state and local municipality. For example, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia shares how in Pennsylvania, a person charged with a summary offense but not convicted of it can have the charge expunged from their record. If a person is convicted of the summary offense, this stays on their record unless the conviction happened before the age of 18. Courts may expunge the conviction six months after the person turns 18 and after the fine related to the conviction has been paid. If a person was 18 or older when convicted of a summary offense, there is a waiting period of five years for record expungement. During those five years, the person must not be arrested or convicted of any new charges. Summary offenses may remain on the person’s driving record indefinitely. Law enforcement can access this information during a traffic stop for a moving violation.

Misdemeanor Offenses and Criminal Records

Misdemeanor offenses typically remain on a person’s criminal record if the conviction happened at age 18 or older, explains reference site ThoughtCo. A misdemeanor conviction often involves paying legal fees, court costs and fines. If the misdemeanor is related to property, the person may have to pay restitution to the victim. The conviction may also result in a community service requirement, period of probation or period of incarceration. Failure to comply with the court’s orders could result in re-incarceration or an increase in probation and fines. People with a misdemeanor conviction must disclose this information on applications for jobs, apartments, and loans. The person may have to describe the particulars of the conviction during a job interview.

A summary offense and a misdemeanor can both have lasting consequences. When a person is facing either a summary offense or a misdemeanor, it is important to seek legal counsel and representation for a court appearance.