What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor Vs. Summary Offense?

Posted on November 3rd, 2020

Being accused of a crime is a nerve-wracking experience regardless of what the charge is. But when you face a misdemeanor or summary offense, you may wonder what the difference is, or which one is a lesser penalty.

Broadly speaking, crimes in the USA are largely divided into three categories, depending on their severity. These are as follows.

  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Infractions or summary offenses

Felony charges are the most serious of the three, followed by misdemeanors. Summary offenses call for the lightest sentences.

When it comes to misdemeanor vs summary offenses, it is important to understand how these two compare against each other in court. Although not all states have the same definitions for these crimes, learning about them can help you gauge the weight of your offence and see where you stand.

At Kalinoski Law Offices, P.C., we work with you to understand the seriousness of your penalty and will do everything in our power to ensure that the sentence or penalty handed to you is the most favorable.

What is a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is less severe than a felony but still can result in prison time and hefty fine. A misdemeanor charge can be filed by any individual who feels that harm or damage was caused to them. Unlike felony charges, misdemeanors can also be dropped by the person who made the accusation. Misdemeanors are punishable by incarceration or fines.

Common examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Simple assault or battery
  • Shoplifting
  • Petty theft
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Trespassing
  • Vandalism
  • Indecent exposure
  • Resisting arrest
  • Minor drug offenses (possession)
  • Cyberstalking and bullying
  • Drunk driving

Often, misdemeanors are grouped into classes, making it easier for courts to assign sentences that fit the degree of the crime. For example, in the Keystone State, misdemeanors are broken into three categories:

  • First-Degree: This can result in a conviction of up to five years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. Such crimes include simple assault, stalking, multiple DUIs, theft of less than $2,000, and prostitution.
  • Second-Degree: Though lesser than the first-degree, this can result in a prison sentence up to two years and as much as a $5,000 fine. Crimes include shoplifting, criminal trespass, and impersonating a public servant.
  • Third-Degree: Punishable by up to one year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines and includes crimes like disorderly conduct, loitering, possession of marijuana, and harassment.

While these penalties may not seem so bad, the reality is that the charge can grow depending on the facts of the case.

Also, bear in mind that some states do not categorize their misdemeanors. Instead, they simply declare a punishment in the statute that defines the crime. This may seem tricky at first, so it is best if you talk to a misdemeanor lawyer to clarify your doubts.

What is a Summary Offense?

Now that we have discussed misdemeanors, you may be wondering ‘what is a summary offense?’ Allow us to explain.

Considered the most minor criminal offense, a summary offense is often called a non-traffic citation and typically will not go to court but rather is up to the discretion of the police officer. These charges often result in a fine and can include such crimes as loitering, retail theft of small amounts, and not getting a license for your pet. Most people who receive a summary offense citation decide to plead guilty, pay the fine, and move on. However, there are multiple reasons why summary offenses should not be taken lightly.

In some cases, a summary offense can lead to a criminal record and you may have to disclose it to an employer if they ask if you have any criminal convictions. Besides jeopardizing employment opportunities, summary offenses can also stir up trouble in your current job. Plus, they can affect school admissions and housing approvals.

To fight a summary offense citation, you will have to plead not guilty and request a hearing. It’s best if you consult a summary offense attorney on how to navigate the situation.

How do the penalties of each compare?

Obviously, summary offenses result in lesser penalties than misdemeanor charges but that doesn’t mean you should handle either alone. Remember that even a third-degree misdemeanor can impact your employment opportunities, hinder your ability to get a gun, or even access some types of government assistance.

Misdemeanor Penalties

As mentioned, for most misdemeanor penalties, the maximum sentence is one year in prison. However, a few states mandate longer sentences, ranging from eighteen months to a few years in jail.

In case of lower misdemeanor classes, the possible punishments may involve fines, probation, or community service, based on the seriousness of the offence.

Summary Offense Penalties

Summary offence penalties in Pennsylvania usually vary as per the following guidelines.

  • First-degree summary offenses: a $250 fine and imprisonment up to 90 days.
  • Second-degree summary offenses: a $150 fine and imprisonment up to 20 days.
  • Third-degree summary offenses: a fine of $75.
  • Fourth-degree summary offenses: a fine of $25.

Misdemeanor Vs. Summary Offense in Pennsylvania: Kalinoski Law Offices

The differences between misdemeanors vs summary offenses in Pennsylvania may be hard to grasp, which is where a reputable criminal defense lawyer comes in.

Know that your rights need to be protected no matter the charge. At Kalinoski Law Offices, P.C., our team is committed to protecting you in and out of court. Scranton criminal defense attorney Craig Kalinoski will use his knowledge of the community, law, tenacious negotiation skills, and commitment through trial preparation. Call (570) 207-4000 or use our contact form today to schedule an appointment and discuss your case during a free consultation.

Category: Criminal Charges

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Craig Kalinoski
Craig Kalinoski

Craig P. Kalinoski is a respected attorney serving clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With a focus on Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Civil Rights, he has established himself as a top-rated legal professional. Recognized as a Rising Star and admired by peers, Craig's commitment to excellence sets him apart in the legal field.


We fight for the rights of our clients in a wide spectrum of practice areas, ranging from criminal defense to family law and personal injury.

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