Summary Offense – What Is It?


There are three types of philadelphia criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania – homicide, felony, and misdemeanor. In addition to criminal offenses, there is also something called a summary offense. Issues like underage drinking, obstruction of the highway, and my personal favorite – giving away a pig as a lottery prize – are all summary offenses. Usually, summaries are punishable by a fine. However, it is possible for many summaries to receive up to 90 days in jail.

If you have a clean record prior to being issued a citation for a summary offense, then you can almost certainly keep your record clean by arranging to do some community service or taking a class in anger management, for example. Hiring an attorney is very often not strictly necessary, but I always say better safe than sorry. Since summary offenses are not criminal offenses, you do not have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, you are out of luck.

26 Comments on Summary Offense – What Is It?

  1. Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 2:28 pm // Reply

    On November 27, 2008, Governor Rendell signed a new bill changing the law on summary offenses. Primarily, even if you are convicted of a summary offense, you can now get that conviction expunged. At the district court, you should now have a much better chance to get some kind of special deal, like Jay refers to above, because now even if you are convicted, you can get it expunged. Therefore, by taking a lawyer with you to the hearing, you have a much better shot of getting some type of community service or some type of special deal because the lawyer will be able to articulate to the police officer the value of getting rid of the case now and not having to clog up the system now, then again in 5 years.

    I still agree with Jay’s initial post in that a summary conviction is still a criminal conviction.

  2. Anonymous // at 6:33 am // Reply

    Summary offenses in PA are not considered "criminal convictions" unless jail time was served. Let's say you have an open container ticket for which you paid a fine. When filling out a job application that asks "have you ever been convicted of a crime?", you can write "no". Because it wasn't a crime, it was an "infraction"

    Even though summaries show up UJS portal, they rarely show up on a PSP records check unless the PSP wrote the ticket. An official PSP check is what an employer will get.

    Paying a fine for a summary citation is no big deal. Then again, I'm not a lawyer. A lawyer would not divulge information like this until he was retained:)

  3. Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 12:18 am // Reply

    While a summary offense may not be a "crime" per the PA crimes code, it does come up on all criminal record checks including the NCIC used by the FBI and the feds. Also, it is expungeable. If you are looking for a job, it comes up. If you get it expunged, it does not come up.

  4. Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire said…

    "While a summary offense may not be a "crime" per the PA crimes code, it does come up on all criminal record checks including the NCIC used by the FBI and the feds. Also, it is expungeable. If you are looking for a job, it comes up. If you get it expunged, it does not come up."

    This is very misleading. An NCIC check and a PSP records check will only show summary offenses for which the defendant was printed and "booked". I believe the majority of the time this happens is for retail theft over $100. Summary offenses where the defendant did not have a mandatory court appearance and was never printed or booked, will not show up in NCIC or a PSP check.

  5. Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 8:31 pm // Reply

    @Mike, I don't its misleading at all. I always say to people, if they are unsure about it, order a certified copy of their record from the Pennsylvania State Police and go to a website that does background checks and order a copy of your own background. If the summary comes up, then I recommend expungement. If the summary does not come up, then there is nothing to expunge. The debate over whether a summary is actually a "crime" is irrelevant. If it comes up in the check, anyone can find it.

  6. Anonymous // at 8:13 pm // Reply

    Can someone tell me if summary offenses under the PA animal cruelty statute (in particular, a case of cruelty charges in the deaths of multiple animals belonging to the accused) would be eligible for jail time. Thank you. Nancy Blaney

  7. Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 8:17 pm // Reply

    You can definitely get jail time for cruelty to animals.

  8. Anonymous // at 1:02 am // Reply

    I filed charges in the district justice court against my neighbor for harassment and defiant trespass, which has been going on now for almost 3 years. My family is afraid of this guy, and he even chased my then 8 year old son down the hallway at his elementary school yelling his name, trying to confront him! This guy must have deep connections with the local police department, because they won;t do a thing to help us. The magistrate decided to reduce the charges to a summary offense, which is nothing more than a slap on the wrist. What can I do to have the original charges reinstated? Can I have the cases transferred to another court to be heard? I wanted the local District Attorney to prosecute the case, but they never even got the chance to look at it. What are my options at this point, if any?

  9. Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 1:11 am // Reply

    @Anon regarding filing charges against a neighbor. What you filed is also known as a private criminal complaint. If the cops don't observe the conduct or have witnesses other then you that observed the conduct, they are not allowed to do anything unless what you allege is a felony, then they can go and get a warrant. However, once you file the private criminal complaint, the local magistrate judge should hold a hearing on the matter and attempt to resolve it.

  10. Anonymous // at 12:21 pm // Reply

    I was just informed via the newspaper that I was cited for a summary charge. The claim against me is false and I want to fight it. If I contact the police will I be arrested and put in jail where I will have to post bail? All i know is what the paper states and that is that I am cited for a summary charge.

  11. Anonymous // at 12:21 pm // Reply

    I am currently in a situation because of a summary offense from back in 2004. I am trying to receive housing assistance and they denied me due to a summary offense. Is that legal for them to do that in the state of PA? If so what are the steps I need to take to get it expunged, and how much does it cost?

  12. Anonymous // at 12:21 pm // Reply

    does a summary offense show for a background check then? like for retail theft, under $100? i was fingerprinted, but only had to pay a fine. i want to work in retail, and am afraid theyre going to think i'm a criminal. i ONLY got into this situation because my friend got caught and was putting her stolen items in my bag. i've never been convicted of anything, not even a speeding ticket. im not even sure if most retail stores, such as mall stores, do background checks?

  13. Anonymous // at 12:21 pm // Reply

    My neighbor and I got into some ridiculous situation. My apartment has a yard connected to it and we have a dog who goes outside on a leash to go to the bathroom. My neighbor was nit allowed to have a dog and she got a puppy… The landlord seen the dog and said the dog must go. My neighbor thought I told on her for having a dog… Meanwhile got another dog that ended up attacking my dog 2 times. She began harassing me daily cussing me out and screaming rude things spitting outside while I'm in the yard. Her boyfriend tried to fight my boyfriend while he was cutting the grass over the dog drama. I asked nicely several times for them to pick up their do poop as I am responsible for the yard and my dog and family are outside periodically thru the day. I gave them bags for poop and they got thrown on my porch. Their dogs pooped in my flower bed several times… On both my walkways to my car… Right in front of my house. They never put them on a leash so they run outside and try to attack my dog… Which lead to my boyfriend getting bit in the thigh by their dog. One morning they were outside starring at my for like 20min while I was picking up their poop from 3 dogs they have at the house now. They were yelling and being rude. I finally got really mad and put their dog poop on their door handle. Then got a citation for criminal mischief tampering with property… That said I smeared poop on the door handle and steps. Which isn't true. How can I fight this? And how much is an attorney?

  14. Clean record, never committed any crime. a co worker and I got into a fight. I got a citation for harassment.the fine is not listed, but listed a number to call to know the fine. why is the fine not listed? I am also a nursing assistant, and an associate degree holder, and am trying to pursue my BSN. Is this going to limit my Chances if shows up on my record? I am afraid.

  15. Anonymous // at 3:22 pm // Reply

    I was recently cited for disorderly conduct for urinating in public. What kind of punishment am I looking at? I was very cooperative and wasn't drunk. I was behind my vehicle in a dark parking lot. Should I get an attorney?

  16. Anonymous // at 4:30 pm // Reply

    My husbands girlfriend and I got into a verbal altercation on my property. She called the cops and I was cited with harassment. I went to the district magistrate court date and lost. The judge reduced my fine but still cited me with harassment. I am a nurse with this show up when I apply for a job?

  17. Brian Zeiger // at 4:31 pm // Reply

    Harassment will show up on a criminal record check. You can appeal it to the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days of the day of the conviction. This will ift the conviction, but then you have to fight the case again.

  18. Anonymous // at 2:15 am // Reply

    A friend and I took a small window sticker off another friends car. She got this sticker for free and slapped it on her back window. It was a running joke as both of our stickers had been removed off of our cars. She decided to call the police and file a vandalism report. There was NO damage done to the car. Will the police really cite this??

  19. A friend of mine was cited for criminal mischief. Is diversion an option for her? Also, what is the max penalty she could face since she wants to plead guilty.

  20. Anonymous // at 2:03 am // Reply

    I was caught shoplifting today and cited with summary offense of retail theft. I have a clean record to this point. However I noticed that the amount was listed as $117 when I am pretty sure the price tag said $89.
    Is that price over $100 going to make a difference?

  21. Anonymous // at 6:01 pm // Reply

    I have been given a summary citation for speeding. I was in the passing lane on a 1 mile stretch of highway that I thought was at least 55 mph. while passing the semi truck and several cars the only speed limit sign was there and I never saw it. I was going up hill and the officer said I was going 65 in a 45 mph zone. What should I do? I have a clean record and i'm 54 years old. I don't feel like I did anything wrong.

  22. Brian Zeiger // at 6:02 pm // Reply

    In your speeding case, you should fight it. Show up to court and see what they offer you. If there is an offer with no points take it, otherwise, go fight the case.

  23. Anonymous // at 6:03 pm // Reply

    I have a received a summary court appearance notice for a bad check of $146 with fees the total is $177. If I pay this in full before the court date will it be on my record?

  24. Brian Zeiger // at 6:04 pm // Reply

    In regard to the bad checks questions from 1/8/15, yes you will have record if you pela guilty. Paying it is not relevant to whether you will get a record; its the court finding. Go to the hearing and see if you pay it whether they will withdraw.

  25. Heather // at 2:12 pm // Reply

    I received a Summary Trial Notice for not filing local taxes. I did not receive any notification before this however the notice states that I have already plead not guilty and have been given a trial date. My question is can I change my plea to guilty and pay the fine and how do I go about doing this? Also, will this be on my record?

    • Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 12:43 pm // Reply

      Do not change your plea. You will have a record. Show up at the hearing with the full amount due. Ask the officer if you pay in full if they will drop the charges.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.