Crimes and Misdemeanors

The criminal law of Pennsylvania is largely codified in a lengthy statute known as the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, taking up several book volumes of the Pennsylvania Statutes.   The Crimes Code covers everything from “petty theft” to “grand larceny”, from “simple assault” to “murder”.

Criminal conduct is divided into three major categories, with the difference between the categories based mostly upon the seriousness of the misconduct.  The categories are:

  • Summary Offenses
  • Misdemeanors
  • Felonies

In addition, misdemeanors and felonies are often graded into degrees (usually “first”, “second” and “third”).

Summary Offenses:  These are the least serious offenses. Typical examples include first offense retail theft below $150.00 (theft above that amount is a misdemeanor), certain cases of disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, automobile violations, etc.  Summary offenses do not typically involve jail time and usually result in a modest fine.

Misdemeanors:   Misdemeanors are a sort of mid-level crime, typically including crimes like driving under the influence, theft of property, common forgery, simple assault and reckless endangerment.  Misdemeanors are typically graded based upon seriousness, with the most serious misdemeanors classified as “first degree”.  Penalties typically increase with the severity of the offense, with increasing fines and jail time.

Felonies:   Felonies include murder, arson, rape, robbery and a laundry list of other serious offenses.  Felonies typically involve the prospect of jail time in excess of one year and significant fines.  A felony conviction is a very serious mark on your personal record and can prevent you from voting, holding office, various types of employment, such as government and jobs in the financial industry, and can also preclude certain types of higher education.

In defending criminal cases, one of the major defense strategies is to attempt to bargain charges down from one level to the next.  For example, the prosecution will sometimes drop a misdemeanor assault charge in exchange for a guilty plea to a summary offense, such as disorderly conduct.  Felony charges are sometimes dropped in favor of a guilty plea to a first or second degree misdemeanor.

Our firm typically handles a wide range of summary offense and misdemeanor cases; and fortunately, we encounter few felony cases.

– Kevin Palmer

Posted in Litigation / Personal Injury