Except for murder, which is in a category unto itself, there are three categories of criminal offenses under Pennsylvania law: felonies, misdemeanors and the least serious of the three, summary offenses. Summary offenses can be generally subdivided into three categories: summary traffic offenses under the motor vehicle code, nontraffic summary offenses specified in the Pennsylvania crimes code, and summary offenses under the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code.
Under the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code, which generally penalizes violations relating to the unlawful killing and trapping of wildlife, summary offenses are further subdivided into summaries of the first through eighth degrees. 34 Pa. CSA §925(b)(5)-(12). The Game and Wildlife Code also provides for monetary fines higher than those generally provided for under the crimes code (for example, $1,000 – $1,500 for a summary of the first degree under the Game and Wildlife Code. 34 Pa. CSA § 925 (b)(5)).
Though a summary offense under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code or the Wildlife Code is by far the least serious of the categorized criminal offenses, it is important to note that if you have been charged with a nontraffic summary offense, you have been charged with a crime under Pennsylvania law. Because the nontraffic summary citation you receive in the mail appears similar to a traffic citation, many individuals simply elect to plead guilty and pay the fine. While in some cases this is an appropriate course of action, it is important to bear in mind that a guilty plea to a summary offense will result in a minor criminal conviction on your record and the conviction will be visible to schools, employers and professional licensure boards. Furthermore, it may result in suspension of your driver’s license or, under the Game and Wildlife Code, suspension of your hunting privileges.
Under Pennsylvania law, a nontraffic summary offense is a crime under the crimes code. 18 Pa. CSA. § 106. Upon conviction, an individual may be sentenced to up to 90 days’ imprisonment, 18 Pa. CSA § 1105, and face a fine of up to $300 unless a greater amount is specified for a particular criminal offense. 18 Pa. CSA. § 1101. Furthermore, for convictions relating to misrepresentation of age to secure alcohol, underage possession of alcohol or carrying a false identification card, an individual’s driver’s license will be suspended. 18 Pa. CSA. § 6310.4. For hunters, a conviction for a summary offense under the Game and Wildlife Code may also result in a lengthy suspension of hunting privileges. See, e.g., 34 Pa.C.S.A. §2321(d)(2)(i) (unlawful killing of a single white-tailed deer or a single wild turkey is a summary of the first degree, which may result in the forfeiture of the privilege to hunt or take wildlife anywhere with the commonwealth for a period of three years for a first offense).
Typical summary offenses include:
- Retail theft/Shoplifting
- Disorderly conduct
- Underage drinking/Possession of alcohol
- False Identification
- Game and wildlife offenses
- Criminal trespass
- Public drunkenness
- Criminal mischief (Graffiti causing over $150 in damage or other damage to property under $500)
At Rehmeyer & Allatt, we have extensive experience representing individuals charged with summary offenses. In some situations where the facts and circumstances are favorable to the defense, charges may be avoided altogether by acquittal following a trial before a magisterial district judge. Where the facts are not favorable, in many situations penalties for these offenses can be mitigated through pretrial diversionary programs such as the Centre County Youthful Offenders Program (YOP). Enrollment and compliance with the terms of such a program allow eligible offenders to avoid a conviction although in most situations, driver’s license suspension is unavoidable.
Do not underestimate the significance of a nontraffic summary offense. If you or a loved one has been charged with a nontraffic summary offense, we urge you to contact the law office of Rehmeyer & Allatt for a free consultation.