Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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Legal Terms

Crime: A crime is an offence against public law.

Felony: A felony is a serious crime punishable by at least one year in prison. People convicted of felonies lose some rights, such as the right to vote or hold public office. Upon release from prison, the convict also may be required to register with the police. Felonies are also ranked in degrees - ranging from first to third degrees, based upon the severity of the crime. Generally, first degree is the most severe and therefore attaches a harsher punishment.

Summary Offense: An offense that can be tried without a jury in most cases. Summary offenses are generally reserved for petty offenses, such as driving convictions.

Misdemeanor: Any crime that is not a felony is a misdemeanor. The punishment for a misdemeanor is usually a fine and/or up to one year in jail. A crime can be a misdemeanor for the first offense, but subsequent violations would be felony offenses. Misdemeanors also may be ranked in degrees, similar to felonies.