What You Need To Know About Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Laws
Being accused of any crime can be a frightening experience. Here is everything you need to know about criminal defense in Pennsylvania.
Whether you have been accused of theft or manslaughter, there are different penalties and classifications of criminal defense.
Crime Classification in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law does not measure all crimes the same way. Pennsylvania organizes crime into three categories: Felonies, misdemeanors, and summary offenses.
Pennsylvania law classifies felonies as the most serious type of crime. Felonies vary based on severity (from first-degree to third-degree). The first degree is the most serious criminal conviction, and the third is the least serious criminal conviction. Felonies tend to be violent crimes resulting in endangerment to society.
Common examples of felony crime include:
- Property crimes such as arson, grand theft, and burglary
- Violent offenses such as first-degree murder, manslaughter, and kidnapping.
- White-collar crimes such as embezzlement, tax evasion, and securities fraud.
Compared to felonies, Pennsylvania considers misdemeanors as more minor crimes. Misdemeanors typically include low-level offenses. Misdemeanors vary based on severity, with the first degree being the most serious criminal conviction and the third degree being the least serious criminal conviction.
Common examples of misdemeanor crimes include:
- Drinking under the influence
A summary offense is the most minor type of criminal offense in Pennsylvania.
Common examples of summary offenses include:
- Underage drinking
- Public urination
- Public intoxication
Criminal Penalties in Pennsylvania
When facing a felony case, it’s essential to understand what consequences you could be facing. In Pennsylvania, different crime classifications are met with other consequences.
- First-degree felonies in Pennsylvania carry a maximum of a twenty-year prison sentence and up to $25,000 in fines.
- Second-degree felonies carry a maximum of a ten-year prison sentence and $25,000 in fines.
- Third-degree felonies carry a maximum of a seven-year prison sentence and up to $15,000 in fines.
- First-degree misdemeanors in Pennsylvania carry a maximum prison sentence of five years and up to $10,000 in fines.
- Second-degree misdemeanors carry a maximum prison sentence of two years and up to $5,000 in fines.
- Third-degree misdemeanors carry a maximum prison time of one year and up to $2,500 in fines.
Summary offenses in Pennsylvania carry a maximum sentence of ninety days in county jail.
Up to $1,500 in fines.
Stand Your Ground in Pennsylvania
The Stand, Your Ground Law under Title 18 Section 505, permits individuals the right to use force to protect themselves and family. The Stand Your Ground Law states, “the use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the “actor” (party taking action against an intruder or assailant) believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself.”
Castle Doctrine in Pennsylvania
The Castle Doctrine allows an individual to defend their home in the event of intrusion. The phrase originates from English parliament member Sir Edward Coke who said, “A man’s house is his castle and fortress, and (his) home is his safest refuge.” Victims in Pennsylvania have a right to use deadly force to protect themselves and their homes.
Proving a Self-Defense Claim In Pennsylvania
If Pennsylvania courts charge an individual with a violent crime, they have a right to claim self-defense. Depending on the circumstances, individuals can use self-defense to protect themselves against the use of unlawful force on another individual.
The use of self-defense is not justified in certain circumstances, such as the following:
- While resisting arrest (even if the arrest is unlawful)
- If the individual provoked the other individual, use force
- The individual could have retreated safely.
To have a successful self-defense claim, you must have ALL of the following elements of self-defense.
An individual may claim self-defense in certain circumstances, such as the following:
- Reasonable Belief: An individual must believe the amount of force was necessary to avoid imminent danger. If an individual concludes they are in danger of immediate harm, they may render the use of self-defense.
- Necessity: As a general rule, self-defense is justified in response to an immediate threat. The threat can be verbal or physical. However, a threat of future harm is not sufficient enough.
- Proportionality: A claim of self-defense will only apply if you attacked only enough to remove the threat.
- Unprovoked Attack: An individual may file for self-defense if the fear of harm exists during the “present occasion.”
Pennsylvania’s ARD Program and Expungement Process
If Pennsylvania courts charge an individual with a minor crime or first offense, ARD may be the best option. ARD stands for “Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition” and is a program Pennsylvania requires individuals with no criminal records to be placed into the program. The program is intended to encourage offenders to participate in the program in exchange for a clean record. ARDs delay an offender’s case with an incentive that courts will dismiss their case if they complete certain requirements within the time frame. Expungement occurs when courts dismiss an individual’s record of a criminal conviction.