The criminal justice system in Pennsylvania is full of legal terms you may have heard but not fully understand. If you are facing criminal charges, though, knowing the difference between felony, misdemeanor and summary charges may help to put your mind at ease.
A misdemeanor is a category of criminal offense that is less serious than a felony but more serious than a summary offense. In Pennsylvania, misdemeanor offenses have a maximum penalty of between 90 days and five years behind bars plus a fine.
Degrees of misdemeanors
Pennsylvania law separates misdemeanors into three categories, depending on the seriousness of the conduct. A first-degree misdemeanor, which is the most serious, has a potential penalty of up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
By contrast, a conviction for second-degree misdemeanor carries with it a possible penalty of up to two years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine, while committing a third-degree one may cause you to spend up to 90 days in jail and pay a fine of as much as $5,000.
Charges and convictions
Prosecutors may have some flexibility when deciding which degree of misdemeanor to charge. They may also elevate a misdemeanor charge to a felony after considering the facts and circumstances of the case. Likewise, if additional details come to light prosecutors may seek to amend the charging document to increase or decrease the degree of misdemeanor.
A conviction for even a third-degree misdemeanor offense may ultimately give you a criminal record for the rest of your life. Consequently, to protect your future, you should plan to defend yourself aggressively against misdemeanor criminal charges.