In addition distinguishing between felony and misdemeanor offenses, Pennsylvania separates felonies into three different degrees: first, second, and third. First-degree felonies are the most serious offenses, while third-degree offenses are considered the least serious felonies.
Also, some Pennsylvania felonies ("non-categorized crimes") are specifically not included in the degree categories.
For information on misdemeanors, see Pennsylvania Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Sentence Range for Each Level
Anyone convicted of a felony in Pennsylvania faces a potential sentence that depends on the degree of the felony involved. Every felony offense has a maximum penalty associated with it, though non-categorized crimes have their own potential sentences. Also, courts do not always impose the maximum possible sentence in each case, and individual sentences can differ significantly.
- First-degree. Not more than 20 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
- Second-degree. Not more than 10 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines
- Third-degree. Not more than seven years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.
Pennsylvania felonies that are not categorized into one of the three felony degrees have their own sentences. For example, someone committed of first-degree murder faces a penalty of death or life imprisonment, while someone convicted of second-degree murder faces a sentence of life in prison.
Some Pennsylvania crimes have mandatory minimums, meaning that a court must impose a minimum penalty regardless of any mitigating factors. For example, someone convicted of rape, a first-degree felony, must serve a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison; while someone convicted of aggravated assault, either a first-degree or second-degree felony, must serve a mandatory minimum of 2 years in prison.
Pennsylvania also imposes additional penalties in situations where someone has been convicted of previous crimes. For example, if someone has previously been convicted of a violent crime and is convicted of a new violent crime, the court must sentence that person to at least 10 years in prison. If someone is convicted of a violent crime and has been convicted of two or more previous violent crimes, a court must sentence that person to at least 25 years in prison.
Examples of Crimes in Each Level
Pennsylvania recognizes numerous felonies. The following list presents examples of felonies at each degree level, though it is not comprehensive.
First Degree Felony
- Arson endangering persons
Second Degree Felony
- Statutory sexual assault
- Indecent assault
- Burglary when no one is present in the structure
Third Degree Felony
- Institutional sexual assault of a minor
- Reckless burning or exploding
- Terroristic threats
- First, second, and third degree murder
- First, second, and third degree murder of an unborn child
Statute of Limitations
In Pennsylvania, the state can only prosecute someone for crime if it files charges in a timely manner. The criminal statute of limitations determines how long the state has to file charges in any criminal case. This statute is a ticking clock that begins running as soon as someone commits a crime. If the state has not filed criminal charges by the time the clock runs out, it cannot file charges later.
The Pennsylvania statute of limitations imposes no time limit on a handful of crimes, such as murder, solicitation to commit murder, and aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer. Other offenses are limited to three, five, eight, or 12-year time limits, depending on the crime involved. For more detailed explanation you can read Pennsylvania Criminal Statute of Limitations.
Find a Lawyer in Your Area
Being charged with a felony offense in the state of Pennsylvania is a serious situation, one that requires the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Attorneys who have represented clients in local courts and who have dealt with area prosecutors are the only people who are qualified to give you legal advice about your case. If you don’t contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after learning you have either been charged with, or are being investigated for, a felony offense, you may harm your chances of successfully protecting your rights.