What Is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Summary Offense?

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Misdemeanors and summary offenses are both criminal offenses. The main difference between them is that the judge usually decides whether you're guilty of a summary offense while if you're charged with a misdemeanor you have the right to a trial by jury. Both are considered minor offenses, much less serious than felonies.

Summary Offenses

Even though summary offenses and misdemeanors are minor criminal acts, a summary offense is still less serious than a misdemeanor. Contempt of court -- such as a disrespectful act toward a judge or other act capable of disrupting the court -- typically is a summary offense. Other types of summary offenses can include speeding, minor assaults, minor property damage and running a red light. Summary offenses do not create a criminal record.

Penalties for Summary Offenses

Another difference between summary offenses and misdemeanors is the degree of punishment. Different states have different categories or classes of summary offenses. For example, in Pennsylvania, the categories range from summary offense in the first through eighth degree. The most serious summary offense is the first degree, which is punishable by not more than $1,500 and not less than $500. The least category is summary offense in the eighth degree, punishable by not more than $25. Generally, punishments range from fines to not more than 90 days in jail.

Misdemeanor Offenses

Misdemeanors are minor offenses that are tried in lower courts. They include offenses like disturbing the peace, assault and battery, possession of marijuana, driving with a suspended license and driving under the influence. Misdemeanors may be punished by fines, probation, jail or a combination of either probation and fine or jail and fine. Unlike summary offenses, people who have been charged with misdemeanors have the right to a jury trial.

Categories of Misdemeanors

The punishment for different categories of misdemeanors ranges from fines to not more than one year in jail. Misdemeanors are classified according to seriousness, usually from Class 1 to Class 4. In Virginia, a Class 1 misdemeanor is the most serious and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. The Class 4 is the least serious and is punishable by a maximum fine of $250.


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