What Are The Differences Between Felony And Misdemeanor Charges?
Whether a charge will be considered a felony or a misdemeanor will depend on the seriousness of the case. In Pennsylvania, both felony and misdemeanor charges have three degrees of seriousness. A third-degree misdemeanor is the least serious charge, outside of what’s called a summary offense. A summary offense is akin to receiving a traffic ticket, and usually only carries a fine (although it can sometimes carry a jail sentence of up to 90 days).
A misdemeanor of the third degree is the least serious misdemeanor, followed by second-degree and first-degree misdemeanors. Of the degrees of felonies, a third-degree felony is the least serious, and a first-degree felony is the most serious. The only charge that is more serious than a first-degree felony is a criminal homicide charge. It’s simply a way of grading the seriousness of the offense, which is done by the legislature in Pennsylvania. When the legislature passes sentencing guidelines, they determine the level of each offense in the crime code, and then they give it a grading.
There are also statutory penalties. In Pennsylvania, the maximum sentence for a third-degree misdemeanor is one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. A second-degree misdemeanor carries a two-year maximum jail sentence and a maximum fine of $5,000. A misdemeanor of the first degree carries a five-year jail sentence maximum, and a $10,000 fine. A third-degree felony carries a sentence of seven years in jail and $15,000 fine. For a second-degree felony, the maximum sentence is 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine. A first-degree felony carries a sentence of 20 years in jail and a $25,000 fine. Criminal homicide charges can be capital cases facing the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole.
How Does The Process of Bail Work In Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, the bail system works in two ways. Many of the larger counties have their own bail agencies, which are controlled by the Court of Common Pleas in that County. In the counties that don’t have bail agencies, a person is required to rely on private bail bond agencies, themselves, or family or friends in order to obtain the funds to make bail. In Pennsylvania, not everyone is immediately required to post bail. For example, an officer can choose to release a suspect to a responsible party without having to take them before a magistrate. The officer would then file the criminal charges by summons, by sending them a notice in the mail advising them when they would be required to come to court.
In other cases, Pennsylvania requires an officer to take the person before a District Magistrate, which is equivalent to what other states call a Justice of the Peace. A District Magistrate is the lowest level municipal court officer in Pennsylvania. The officer will generally take the individual who’s been charged or arrested to the District Magistrate for the preliminary arraignment. At that arraignment, the judge will advise the person of what they are being charged with and will set bail. A person does not have a right to an attorney at this point, but they are usually allowed to call one anyway. In counties where they have a county bail agency, they will usually have a representative of the bail agency interview the accused in order to gather information, such as whether or not they have a job or a family. They will then make a recommendation to the judge as to what the bail should be.
There are different ways a judge can set bail in Pennsylvania. First, a judge can order that a person be released on their own recognizance, which means that they would not be under any kind of pre-case supervision or have to report to anyone; they would simply have to show up in court. At the preliminary arraignment, they would be given the first court date for a preliminary hearing, which is the first step in the Pennsylvania criminal justice process.
The second type of bail is called unsecured bail, which means that the person would not have to physically post any money unless he or she fails to appear at a future hearing. For example, if the judge said, “I am setting your bail at $10,000 unsecured,” then that would mean that the person would not have to pay any money upfront before being released, but would owe the court $10,000 if they did not appear at the preliminary hearing. In addition, a warrant would be issued for that person’s arrest.
Thirdly, a judge can set a percentage of bail. For example, if a judge set bail at 10% of $10,000, then the person would have to pay 10% of the $10,000 before being released. If that were the recommendation in a county that had a bail agency, then the bail agency would post the money, the person would sign a bail bond to the county bail agency, and then they would be released. If that were the recommendation in a county that does not have a bail agency, then 10% of the total bail would have to be paid for by the defendant, the defendant’s family members or by a private bail agency.
Alternatively, a judge could order straight bail, which means a person would be ordered to pay the entire amount of bail that was ordered. In these situations, many people sign over their houses or other things of value as collateral, which would be accepted by the court as a bail substitute. In all of these cases, if the person fails to appear for court, then those moneys can be forfeited if the county seeks it. The purpose for having bail in the first place is solely to ensure that a person will appear in court; it’s not supposed to be punitive in anyway.
For more information on Felony & Misdemeanor Charges In PA, a free initial consultation is your best next step. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking by calling (484) 854-3371 today.
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