I Was Charged/Cited For a Summary Offense in Pennsylvania- What Now?
By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney
When a person receives a citation a summary offense in Pennsylvania, it can sometimes feel quite different that how we might expect to be “charged” with a crime. In many cases, a police officer may hand you a piece of paper that looks similar to a speeding ticket and tell you that you have been “cited.” In other cases, you may receive nothing at the time of the incident, but receive a citation in the mail sometime later. Common examples include Disorderly Conduct, Harassment, Public Intoxication, or Underage Drinking. If you have received such a citation, it is important to understand one thing: you have been charged with a crime. You now face a criminal proceeding with real criminal penalties. The penalties can include fines, jail time and license suspension. More importantly, conviction for even a minor summary offense carrying a small fine can haunt you for years to come. If you have not yet consulted a criminal defense attorney, it is important to do so immediately.
What Are the Possible Penalties for Summary Offenses?
In Pennsylvania, a summary offense carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $300 fine, though specific fines may be set out by law for certain offenses. For some summary offenses, such as underage drinking, a conviction may also carry a mandatory license suspension. A summary conviction may also appear as a criminal conviction on your record in any future background check for employment, military service, government clearance, etc.
What Should I Do If I am Charged With a Summary Offense?
When you receive a summary citation in Pennsylvania, you will be given ten days to respond by pleading guilty or not guilty. If you fail to respond, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. Before making any decisions about a plea, it is critical to speak with a criminal defense attorney. It may seem easy to make the problem “go away” by simply mailing in a plea of guilty, but it is important to note that this does not make the problem go away. Not only might you face whatever sentence the court chooses to hand down, possibly including jail time, but you will have a criminal conviction on your record for years to come. Regardless of the offense, it is important to speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately. Your attorney will review your case and advise you as to your options, possible defenses, and maybe even some diversionary programs that could allow you to take responsibility while keeping your record clean for the future. If you plead “not guilty,” you will receive notice of a hearing date in the future. You still have the option of pleading guilty on that hearing date if you so choose, though you may incur additional court costs for the hearing.
What if I Have Already Pled Guilty or Been Convicted?
If you have already pled guilty or been convicted after a hearing, you do have options, but time is critical. Summary convictions are unique, in that you can appeal your conviction for a new hearing on the evidence, and you can appeal even if you voluntarily entered a guilty plea. However, strict time limits apply and it is important to speak to an attorney immediately if you think you want to appeal a summary conviction. If you miss the deadline for appeal, it is generally not waived.
If your conviction was some time ago, you may have the option of expungement to clean up your record. Summary convictions are also unique from other criminal charges in that they can be expunged, or removed from your record, after some time. Depending on your age at the time of the conviction, and the offense involved, there are strict requirements for eligibility under the law. However, an expungement may be an option to “clean up” your record, especially where an isolated youthful mistake led to a summary conviction in the past. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you on your options.