In most jurisdictions, a summary offense is a minor type of legal offense. The exact definition of this offense may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but most places reserve these types of charges for minor types of legal violations, such as public nudity, traffic violations and some forms of harassment. In fact, many jurisdictions consider these offenses less serious than misdemeanors. In most cases, these minor offenses can be handled without a trial by jury and without securing an indictment against the accused party.
Summary offenses are basically minor violations that do not require a person to have the full trial typical of most criminal offenses. Essentially, this type of offense means a person has broken the law, but his crime may not be considered as serious as others. This does not mean, however, that a person can commit a summary offense without expecting any punishment. Depending on the particular violation, a person may face driver's license suspension, fines, community service, probation, and even jail time after being convicted of such an offense.
The types of charges that are considered summary offenses may vary from place to place. In many cases, however, traffic violations such as speeding or driving without a valid license are considered offenses of this kind. Some jurisdictions also consider drunk driving a type of summary violation.
Some other examples of summary offenses include such violations as public nudity and public drunkenness. A person may also be charged with a summary offense for disorderly conduct in public, and in some places, underage drinking. Some types of harassment may also be considered these types of offenses in some jurisdictions, as may minor cases of retail theft.
A person accused of a summary offense may feel tempted to plead guilty to the violation, and this temptation may be due to the fact that these offenses are normally viewed as minor. Many legal experts recommend against pleading guilty without careful forethought, however, as a person who pleads guilty to this type of violation may face lasting consequences. For example, depending on the violation and the jurisdiction in question, a summary offense may result in a criminal record. Even when the offense is a traffic violation, a conviction could have lasting effects. For instance, a person convicted of a traffic violation may have adverse entries added to his driving record, experience difficulty in getting jobs for which a clear driving record is important, and even face higher car insurance rates.