A distinguished lawyer call our office this morning to discuss a previous post on summary offenses, where the reader could interpret our post to mean that summary offenses are not crimes. He stated that under Commonwealth v. Matty, 619 A.2d 1383 (Pa. Super. 1993), certain summary offenses are in fact crimes because if you face jail time in a case, it is a criminal case. We are back to the same question, “Is a Summary Offense a Crime?”

First, summary offenses are broken into two categories, traffic offenses and non-traffic offenses. Certain traffic offenses are not criminal offenses, but can carry jail time. Therefore, I respectfully disagree with my colleage that if you are looking at jail time, the case that puts you in jail must be a crime.

Further, in Matty, the issue is whether a conviction for a summary conviction can stand when a crime was charged to the jury. The issue in the case is NOT whether a summary offense is a crime. Clearly, 18 Pa.C.S.A. sec. 106, defines all gradations of crimes and summaries are not listed. Therefore a summary offense is not a crime technically. Therefore, I respectfully disagree with my colleague regarding the syntax of the case and the PA Code.

However, summary offenses are reported to the Pennsylvania State Police and they pop-up on record checks (traffic offenses do not appear on criminal record checks). Regardless of how one reads the Matty case or sec. 106, if you are convicted of a Summary Offense, you may face jail time and the Summary Offense will come up in a criminal record check.

A Summary Offense is expungable and a Summary Offense is reported on a criminal record check. This debate about whether a Summary Offense is a criminal offense is of no moment. The real issue is whether a Summary conviction can effect your life and liberty? The answer is clearly: yes.  A skilled criminal defense attorney will see this and be able to offer help.

Usually we can expunge your summary offense from your record.

85 comments on “Is a Summary Offense a Crime?

  1. I have been issued summary offense (non-traffic) citations in the past. They were issued by local police and I paid fines, no jail time. It was my understanding that summary offenses only appear on PSP record checks if a PSP officer issued the citation. I have read my own PSP criminal history and no summary offenses appeared on it even though I have a few. Does the PSP not include summary offenses on criminal history reports when requested by citizens? Or do they not know or care about summary citations issued by municipal police?

    FWIW, leash law violations and false alarm violations are written out on the same non-traffic citation form. So by what you are saying, if my burglar alarm goes off and the police arrive to find it was a false alarm and then issue me a non-traffic citation for which I pay a fine…that becomes part of my criminal history????

    1. I don’t know the answer relating to the leash law and false alarm issue. I would be interested if you ordered a certified record from the Pennsylvania State Police, to see how that certified report would read. I would also like to see the best report from an internet provider like intelius, and see how that reads.

      I will still stick to my early answers to these questions that I am far less concerned with what is or is not a crime. I am more concerned with how these issue are reported by the state police and the fbi.

      Let me give you a hypothetical example. I am lawyer and you come to me for advice I tell you that leash law violations are NOT crimes. You have five leash law violations. I tell you not to worry about them. You apply for a job as a paralegal and the lawyer who interviews you interview hates her neighbor. The reason she hates her neighbor is because the lawyer’s kid got bit last year by the neighbor’s dog because the dog wasn’t properly leashed. The job interview goes fine and the lawyer wants to hire you. The lawyer then conducts her normal background check on all of her potential new hires. Because she is a lawyer, she only uses the most top-notch background check. The five leash law violations come on the report. Do you think you will get hired?

      Again, I don’t think the issue is whether it is crime, but rather how it is reported.

    2. My brother has a few summary offenses, driving with a suspended license, alcohol summary offenses, we did a pa state police check and none of them show up, but they do show up on the pa online system where you can look up records, weird….

      It seems like summary offenses won’t show up on the pa state police check…

      1. They can show up in one and not the other. And, they can show up on the state police check. Sometimes they do not, however. You can file a miscellaneous docket expungement in the cOurt of Common Pleas to remedy this issue.

  2. Does a summary offense non-traffic, could be used against an individual for immigration purposes? Could someone not be eligle for cancellation of deportation for a summary offense of this source? Could anyone give me any guidance as to where I could read about similar cases in Pennsylvania? Thank you!

  3. I understand your point but I think the two issues in your last sentence go hand in hand. How it’s reported has everything to do with whether it’s considered a crime or not. Apparently a conviction of a summary offense is not considered a “conviction of a crime” unless jail time was served. If you are issued a summary citation and pay your fine without ever being booked or printed, I believe the story ends at your local magistrate. Obviously anything and everything can now be found on the UJS site but that is not an official criminal record.

    If you’re not booked for a crime, I highly doubt it shows up on NCIC. I really don’t think the FBI cares about your public urination charge but I do not know for sure.

    Interestingly enough, some job applications now specifically address PA residents and state to not list summary offenses unless it involved certain circumstances, like theft.

    Our summary offense system is odd but sometimes good in a way. Doing things that net you a citation in PA will get you booked and held on bond in other states (and definitely reported to NCIC).

  4. @Jon, I agree with everything you are saying. My point to the original lawyer that I spoke with is exactly your point that all of this is semantics. We get many phone calls from people telling us they have paid an internet company to run a criminal record check for them and it comes back showing the summary offense.

    If you run a background check and the summary offense shows up, to me it is semantics whether you think it is a crime or not. To me the answer is, GET RID OF IT, because if I can find it, a future employer or graduate school can find it too.

  5. @Kenia, in the last year or so, we have heard some bizarre ICE issues dealing with deportation. It seems like folks can get deported or get denied entry into the United States for just about anything.

    If the summary is older then 5 years, we can most likely get it expunged. I am not certain how ICE would view the expungement, but my guess is that they would honor the expungement.

    I am surprised to hear that a summary is cause all of these immigration issues.

  6. if you have a non traffic disorderly conduct hazardous physical offense-summary and are found guilty by a summary hearing, what does that mean? And what is an example of a non traffic diorderly conduct hazardus physical offense? If you are found guilty and pay a fine does this show on a criminal background check, and could it affect custody of a child?

    1. A guilty for a summary offense for a for a non traffic disorderly conduct will show up on a criminal background check. After five years pass, you may be able to get it removed from your record through an expungement.

      Whether that conviction is criminal or not is irrelevant because the conviction is reported on your criminal background history from the Pennsylvania State Police. If you have already been convicted of Disorderly Conduct, an example of Disorderly Conduct is irrelevant because even if you were falsely convicted, based on your question, you are outside the window of appeal. I have no idea how this can effect child custody.

  7. I would like to know who comes up with the laws in Pennsylvania. Honestly they are nothing like the laws in the rest of the country. What happened to freedom of speech? Well I will tell you if you live in certain counties in PA, you have no right to freedom of speech. The people in this wonderful town that we moved to make there own laws up as they go. Who cares what the rest of the United States has for laws when you live in certain counties. They charge a 13 year old with disorderly conduct, for swearing at an adult who swore at him first. However you can tamper with mail here and have no problems with the law. You can even hand out bibles at the public schools. Makes sense right? How about when you go to the volunteer fire station to face summary offense charges. The states witness get’s up on the stand and lie’s completely. But because the law judge knows the mother and dated the cousin and married into the uncles family of the witness that is lying on the stand your evidence to prove that they fabricated everything that is coming out of there mouth’s is not admissible. As a result of being wrongfully convicted in this state, someone that was convicted 19 years ago of rape, got a new trial all because the judge wanted to help out there friends. Nice! What a joke this place is!

  8. In my experience, summary offenses often do NOT appear on Pennsylvania background checks. With a few exceptions (summary retail theft being a main one), summary offenses issued as non-traffic citations rarely appear on PA RAP Sheets. However, the NT summary docket will show up on the UJS Portal.

    On the other hand, if the case is originally charged as a court case (misdemeanors or felony), and later reduced to a summary case, the summary conviction is likely to appear on the background check. This is especially true if the summary plea was arranged at the Court of Common Pleas.

    Bottom line: Find out what is on your official criminal history. You can order your complete PA criminal history via form SP4-164 (epatch.state.pa.us/help/sp4164.doc).
    Choose “Individual Access and Review” as the reason for the request.

    If a summary conviction does appear, and five arrest free years have elapsed since the date of conviction, contact a lawyer about expungement. The applicable expungement statute is 18 Pa. C.S. 9122(b).

    It should be noted that it may be improper for employers or licensing agencies to deny applicants on the basis of summary offense convictions. See 18 Pa. C.S. 9124 and 9125.

  9. I often wonder if the issue is just about the internet catching up to the reporting. I would still recommend getting rid of all summaries. Perception is reality.

  10. Hello M:

    Do you know if a juvenile summary offense for retail theft is reported to the NCIC? I am currently about to take my series 6 and 63 license and must have a clean background. I plead guilty to retail theft when I was 16. Do you know if this will affect me trying to obtain my licenses?

  11. @AMC: you can order a copy of your NCIC from the PA state police for a very cheap price. It will show you exactly what is reported. You can also use intellius, though I am in no way adverting, endorsing, etc., but sometimes, I use intellius to compare it to what I get from the PA state police.

    If you want me to guess, I would say, yes it is reported. Depending on your age, we can most likely get it expunged regardless of how it is reported.

  12. What about summary offenses issued by the Game and Wildlife commission? Would they show up on a criminal record check?

  13. I committed a non-traffic summary offense 10 years ago. I need to do a NCIC background check for an overseas work visa. I ran a check on my record at epatch.state.pa.us and it came up clean. I’m wondering, however, if the Pennsylvania UJS record (which I assume will contain the offense since it is not expunged) will show up on the NCIC check.

    Someone here wrote: “Obviously anything and everything can now be found on the UJS site but that is not an official criminal record…If you’re not booked for a crime, I highly doubt it shows up on NCIC.”

    Does anyone know if it will show up or not for certain?

    Thank you!

  14. Brett said: “Does anyone know if it will show up or not for certain?”

    I have a good amount of summary offenses such as disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. No retail theft though. I was never “booked” (photographed, fingerprinted, formally charged) for any of the charges.

    I’ve seen my PA state police rap sheet and I’ve seen my FBI NCIC report which was furnished to me by the DOD. There were no summary offenses on either report. You cannot “order” an NCIC report as Brian Zeiger suggests but I can tell you if a summary charge is not showing on your PA state police report, it won’t be on NCIC. In addition to federal charges, all NCIC does is query each of the 50 states for possible rap sheets on the subject.

    You have to realize that violating a leash law or other lame municipal ordinance is a summary offense too. No LE agency really cares to report this stuff, at least not yet.

    BUT, since summary offenses can be easily located on the UJS site, I would suggest getting them expunged. You never know where HR departments will look these days.

  15. I would respectfully disagree with you that “This debate about whether a Summary Offense is a criminal offense is of no moment” unless you have something to add to my question.
    I had a summary offense, pleaded guilty, attended classes and then had the record expunged.
    I am now looking for a new job and when asked if I have a criminal record, was ever convicted of a crime, etc. the subject originally asked seems fair enough.
    I know I was never “convicted” per se, and expungement is a nebulous area for laymen like me, since in fact, it IS still visible to some authorities.

    So the question begs, have I ever committed a crime when in fact it was a summary offense (specifically shoplifting, value under $25)? I don’t want to answer one way or another until I am sure I now the status of this subject so that I would not be lying to a potential employer.

    1. The debate I mentioned is the question I get most often. It is the debate I was having with my clients.

      However, today summaries are expungeable. Summary conviction have not always been expungeable and I when I wrote some of the original posts the law was different. Therefore, I appreciate your point. I would argue with you on one point: if you were found or plead guilty, it means you were convicted. The expungement removes the convictions. Once expunged, if the expungement is properly served on all of the government parties, its almost impossible to ever find again, with only one exception.

        1. Two part answer.

          1. If you had ARD and had the ARD expunged, the DAs office in that county is allowed to maintain a secret data base of previous ARDs so they do give ARD twice. Therefore, even if expunged, they will still have a record.

          2. If you had a limited access expungement, the file is really only sealed, and the government still has access to the file.

          Otherwise, there are no exceptions and it should be gone.

  16. Ok everyone says traffic summary offenses do not show on psp record ck,but I have a “careless driving” summary charge on my record. Why would this traffic charge appear on my record

  17. If I was issued a speeding ticket (9MPH above posted speed) within the 5 year time frame of another summary offense. Will it be possible to still get the original summary offense expunged, or will a mere speeding infraction prevent the expungement? Montgomery County, PA.

    1. I would just file the expungement and see if the DA objects. They probably would not object. If they don’t and the judge signs the Order, the PSP will accept the expungement and clear the record.

  18. I was given a summary offense for retail theft. I paid the fine and plead guilty. This did not show up on a background check for my previous employer. Do you know why the Summary Offense would not have shown up and could it show up on my next background check?

      1. 18 Pa.C.S.A. sec. 106 (c) does in fact list summary offenses. Further, subsec. (A) states:
        General rule.–An offense defined by this title for which a sentence of death or of imprisonment is authorized constitutes a crime.

        This would seem to clearly indicate that your colleague is in fact correct, that any summary offense resulting in imprisonment is a crime.

        Ultimately, it is my firm opinion that our so called judicial system is hopelessly broken, and corrupt. Until such a time as we remove conviction rate as the sole metric of success for DAs, we will continue to see innocent defendants convicted by over eager DAs, not to mention the travesty that is the MDJ or traffic court system. Having defended myself in front of an MDJ, with two witnesses to testify to my innocence, and no witnesses not evidence from the prosecution, and yet still been found guilty, I have no faith in our legal system. That lack of faith was deepened when an MDJ expressly forbade me to question a witness brought against me on a subsequent case.

  19. @Brian – Have you had any experience with a dismissed, non-traffic summary offense (disorderly conduct) appearing on background checks? I most recently was flagged in a BGC for an employer that required me to produce the official disposition from 7 years ago. Do you know why something like this would show up on a BGC and if the level of effort required to get it expunged is worth it?

  20. I received a citation for retail theft fine of 300$ no criminal background if i plead guilty and pay it will i go to jail or will i be on probation?

  21. Can a, declared by the court/VA, incompetent person, with a fiduciary/caregiver, be charged, held responsible for and be found guilty of summary non traffic offenses in PA? Does he/she have immunity, because they don’t know the difference between right and wrong?

    1. What you are suggesting is analogous to an involuntary intoxication defense. You would be negating the mens rea. Therefore the answer would depend on the required criminal intent in the statute for which the ticket was given. If the summary is for a strict liability crime, you cannot use that defense. Otherwise, you can–its just hard to make out.

  22. The aforementioned, declared incompetent by the VA 100% service(wartime) connected veteran, suffers from PTSD and paranoid schizophrenia, with many bouts of delusional acts (he flashes back to combat situations and acts out, accordingly). He is prescribed medications to help him. He was fined, via the mail, for littering from a vehicle (he thought that he was throwing grenades at the enemy). Should his fiduciarycaregiver, my sister, contact the applicable district magistrate and explain his condition or just follow the court process. He doesn’t recall any of the accusations against him. Should she show the magistrate VA documentation validating the veteran’s serious conditions, plus, a list of mental health medications?. Thank you for your help.

    1. The answer to your question depends on the mens rea requirement for the crime for which the person is charged. Otherwise, you want to argue some type of involuntary intoxication. I would need way more information to give an opinion for this question.

  23. Thank You, Brian Zeiger, for your time and expertise. Littering in PA is a strict liability crime. So, mens rea wouldn’t matter in the aforementioned summary non traffic offense. My sister will plead his case for him. Maybe, the district magistrate will have some compassion and understanding or maybe not. Thanks, again. You are a knowledgeable and kind esquire.

  24. Brian,
    I was recently convicted of summary retail theft & I need to know if there is any way I can get it off my record. What is the best way I can get it off-plead guilty or not guilty? Help 🙁

  25. Hi Brian,

    I was arrested by Pittsburgh Police and was charged for some minor violations most of which were lies as I called for an ambulance and was surprised to see the police come instead of an ambulance which made me lose my temper. I am a foreign national, the police refuse to call my embassy for legal counsel. I was not provided any until I saw the judge. I knew nothing about the whole system here, I pleaded guilty for a minor summary offense (disorderly conduct). This was back in October 2011, but I am still facing issues regarding to that. I really want to appeal their misconduct in my case and the fact that I was denied my basic rights. Should I file a complaint with the DOJ or with the PA Courts…? Thanks in advance.

  26. I have a summary that is harassment with physical contact. It started as a summary offense and I tried to fight it due to it being an ex who was drunk and he started walking towards me so I put my hands up to stop him. The magistrate still charged me with the summary offense because in her words “you can’t put your hands on someone” even though the other person tried dropping the charges twice. I also have a letter he wrote stating he only pressed charges to begin with because the officer said if he didnt they would have charged him for wasting their time. So I have a few questions…could this hinder me from getting a gun permit in Pa? Would it be hard to get this expunged? Would I still have to wait 5 yrs after the charge to try to get it expunged? Also I was denied employment somewhere due to this was that allowed?

  27. I was given a summary offense charge for driving with no registration. While I was out of town a letter was sent, which I did not know of. A warrant was issued. I had paid the guilt fine but was unaware of warrant. They tried to issue another warrant. It was eventually cancelled and paid. It is now six years later. What effect will this have on my likelihood of employment? My state and FBI come up clean. It says not to list summary offenses on applications. So why am I not getting hired? Does it come up on DOJ?

    1. I do not have a specific answer to your question. Order an “Access and Review” from the Pennsylvania State Police to make absolutely sure nothing is coming up. As for job interviews, there are a thousand reasons why employers pick one candidate over another and you may be over thinking it, just keep applying and you will get a job.

  28. I recently received a citation for scattering rubbish after throwing a can on the ground in front of an officer. If I pay the fine, how long will it take for me to be able to be eligible to get my record expunged? I am 20 and have never been convicted of anything else.

    1. You should not plea guilty to your summary. You should see if you can work it out where there is no conviction. If there is no conviction it is expungeable immediately. If there is a conviction, there is a 5 year waiting period.

  29. How long is the wait period to get a NT summary offense (retail theft) expunged from my record? I was found guilty and now I am afraid of it showing on my PA record.

  30. So I have a summary offense from a dumb Choice made 4 yrs ago where me and my friend thought stealing would be fun. It was not items that cost a whole lot but we got caught. We did not do any jail time. We simple paid fines and left it at that. I know it comes up as a non traffic citation. But I’m wondering can I still get a hospital job with that? Would it show up on my record and prevent me from being officially hired?

  31. Hi I am a student wanting to pursue a nursing career. I have a summary offense and wish to be a housekeeper for the hospital. I’m wondering if they would hire me since I pled guilty. Does Pennsylvania laws prevent me from getting the job unless expunged?

  32. I pled guilty in 2013 to a summary harassment change stemming from an altercation with my live in girlfriend. I was arrested, booked then released with a fine and anger management to complete of which I did complete. My questions are: is this considered domestic violence and if a future employer runs a background check, does this show ad a domestic violence incident?

  33. According to PA court dockets my ex filed a summary harrasment charge against me. It states certified summons issued then summons issued. That was 9 days ago. I have yet to receive anything in the mail. Why is that? And should I be expecting to receive this in the mail or will I be served by a sheriff??? Should I call the court where it was filed to let them know? I want to be able to plea not guilty within the allowed time. I don’t want it to look like I received it and ignored it.

  34. I received a summary offense for a land use violation. It was very trivial and no structural changes were made to the house, no noise or traffic. I have a hearing coming up. The form the code enforcement officer used is the same ones used for criminal acts, such as harassment and trespassing. Is this legal? I thought land use violations were civil.

  35. I am really nervous here. I do a lot of volunteer and teaching work and am required to get the Act 34 clearances every three years. I recently got a traffic ticket that had no points but did have a fine. The officer told me it would not be on one of the PSP checks as required by Act 34, and while I do trust him, I just need some assurance from another source (I realize that his background is not in law). I don’t recall the exact number on the ticket but I know it was for traffic control devices (a traffic light, to be specific). While I realize traffic tickets can never be used against someone for the jobs I am going for (trust me, I’d never get a job like a taxi driver or anything…too repetitive for my tastes), I do worry that it will show up and someone will use it against me. Keep in mind this is a TRAFFIC offense, and while I do know from research that it is technically a summary, I have been losing a lot of sleep over the possibility of this showing up on my next PSP or FBI check.

  36. I just received a open container violation….. But got a dui 18 months ago….. Officer said to expect a fine in the mail…. Will my past dui affect this open container violation????

  37. My friend’s daughter received an underage drinking charge (6308a), district court level in Chester County. She pleaded not guilty, attended a class and did community service hours. Summary trial was rescheduled. She was told if she attended the class, performed the community service and had no criminal conduct she could plead down to a violation (although I’m not sure exactly what the violation would be). Does she need to do anything further to insure the initial charge and/or the lesser violation does not appear on her record.

  38. I have an summary offense for harassment I plead not guilty my day in court is coming up but if I found guilty could I lose my job

  39. I recently received a non traffic citation for small retail theft . What is my next step to have this summary offence not come up on my record . Should I plead guilty pay the fines ? Im not sure what to do . I’d like to avoid at all cost for this to not be on my pèrmant record.

  40. I recently received a non traffic citation for small retail theft . What is my next step to have this summary offence not come up on my record . Should I plead guilty pay the fines ? Im not sure what to do . I’d like to avoid at all cost for this to not be on my pèrmant record.

  41. I plead guilty to a disorder conduct charge. They waived the other charges that i was supposed to be there for but i had proof of everything. So they had nothing. So to have something, they came up with this charge and i dont understand why because i was in my car in my own driveway at the time of occurrence. What should i do? Should i appeal it?
    I dont want this on my record.

  42. Hello Brian, I am currently a student as an education major and this past weekend I was issued a non-traffic citation for possession of paraphernal. I plead guilty and paid the 300.00 dollar fine. Will this citation appear on my criminal PA state background check? The officer told me that it would not but I’ve received many other opinions about this.

    1. Yes. It will show up for sure. I am 100% certain of my answer. You should run your record from the PSP website and check it for yourself, then email me back and I will help you.

  43. Hello Brian. I am a Canadian who was in PA for a 2-day trip to visit a client for my work. After a long arduous trip to get to the client (in Harrisburg, PA) – doubt the details are important, point is I had little sleep – and after the end of the that day, I had dinner and a few drinks in my hotel. That night, I was charged with Public Drunkenness and Similar Misconduct (5505). I was so tired and out of it, when I received the letter in the mail (at home in Canada), I was surprised. I wasn’t booked, or held or arrested, to my knowledge. Yesterday I received the Summons for Summary Case Non-traffic and now have a fine to pay. The fine is low – $25 and C0sts/fees are $161.25 for a total of only $186.25.
    Based on the above that I’ve read, if I pay the fine, will the record show up? Primarily, when I travel into the US?
    Lastly, would you recommend that I simply pay the fine (if the answer to the previous questions are ‘no’) or plead not guilty and have a lawyer rep the summary charge in an attempt to dismiss / withdraw?
    Thank you.

  44. Hey, On Saturday in the state of PA I received a summary offense for small retail theft, but live in VA. What should I do?

  45. Was pulled over about 6 months ago for lack of emissions, inspection and use of fake inspection sticker on a car. Have a previous guilty of violation of title in same county. Have not responded to summons or certified summons and last one went undelivered. Cases are now is listed as Inactive. What will happen next?

    1. You must contact the court and arrange for a turn it. You likely have a bench warrant. Also, for that type of case, some judges will do a hearing in absentia, meaning you can be convicted in your absense.

  46. Hello Brian Zeiger,

    I got a summary citation from game and fish, for fishing at a closed water body. The fine is only 75. Is that something I should worry about? Is it going to be on the criminal record? Thanks in advance.

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