The Essential Elements of Pennsylvania Criminal Law

Civil Law vs. Criminal Law

In the United States, including in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, laws fall into two broad, general categories: civil law and criminal law. Civil law involves such matters as contracts, family relationships (including divorce and adoption) and a wide range of other issues. On the other hand, criminal law include those statutes involving illegal activities undertaken by an individual. 

Criminal law is further broken down into two broad types of statutes. These are felonies and misdemeanors.  Summaries are actually a third category but they are minor and won’t be discussed herein.

Felony Criminal Laws

Felony cases are the most serious types of criminal proceedings in the commonwealth. A felony is a criminal charge involving a more serious type of illegality. Felonies are also marked by more significant penalties that can range from shorter prison terms to life sentences.

Examples of felonies in Pennsylvania abound. Homicide charges are felonies. Cases involving theft oftentimes are felonies, depending on the amount of money involved. Only theft cases involving a small amount of money or a property of minimal value would fall out of the felony classification.

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Misdemeanor Criminal Laws

Misdemeanors are less serious criminal cases in Pennsylvania. They are less serious crimes and come with less serious penalties as well. Typically, if a jail sentence is imposed in a misdemeanor case, the term will be less than one year – oftentimes far less.

Graduated Sentencing

Pennsylvania, as is the case in other states and on the federal level, utilizes what might best be described as a graduated system when it comes to sentencing in criminal cases. A person with no criminal history is faces a lesser penalty at the time of sentencing in a criminal case in Pennsylvania. However, as a person begins to develop a criminal history, the penalties imposed in cases can become more severe.

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Because even seemingly more minor misdemeanors in fact can carry serious consequences, a person charged with a crime needs to consider seriously engaging the services of a tenacious, experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney. Moreover, the graduated nature of sentencing when it comes to a person with a more significant criminal history also underscores the need for appropriate legal representation. This includes taking a proactive stance the first time a person faces criminal charges, despite the belief that he or she “will never to anything wrong again in the future.” A Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer, such as David C. McKenzie III, will schedule an initial consultation with a client at no cost to that individual.

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