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Zoey_ JD
Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 23175
Experience:  Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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I received a summary offense for harassment in Pennsylvania

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I received a summary offense for harassment in Pennsylvania through the mail. I have 10 days to respond. There is no fine amount specified. If I plead guilty- what can happen? If I plead not guilty - what happens next, does it automatically go to trial?
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 4 years ago.
Hi Jacustomer,

It is customary to plead not guilty at your arraignment. Our Constitution allows every defendant to do that, and it is the only plea that keeps all of your rights open. No, it doesn't automatically mean that you will have to go to trial, but it gives you the opportunity to consult with your attorney and find out what choices you have. While the court and the DA may be happy to go over some of that on the record to push a low-level offender to a quick disposition to get rid of it, sometimes that's the best way, sometimes now, and the only person in the system who's going to tell you all you need to know would be your lawyer.

That said, a summary offense is considered something less than a crime, and while it may show up on your record as a criminal violation (something less than a misdemeanor) it is expungeable. That means if you want it erased from your record altogether down the road, (you will have to wait 5 years) a summary offense is about the only kind of conviction that the state of Pennsylvania would consider removing before your 70th birthday. You can see the Expungement law of your state here.

So,you can't hurt yourself very badly if you don't have a lawyer, though it it is always best to have one, all the same. Once you plead Not Guilty, the DA will likely propose a plea offer. If it sounds okay to you, you can agree to take it. Then you will take back your not guilty plea and enter a plea of guilty or no contest to the charges. Just make sure that before you agree to the plea on the record and actually take the plea you share with the court anything you don't understand. Once you take a plea in the absence of counsel by waiving your right to the advice of an attorney, you cannot undo whatever you got yourself into by claiming that you were denied due process since you had now lawyer.
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