Pennsylvania Misdemeanor Crimes by Degree and Sentences

Learn how misdemeanor sentencing works in Pennsylvania and what sentencing alternatives to jail are available.

By , Legal Editor
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated June 22, 2023

Misdemeanors are less-serious crimes than felonies. But in Pennsylvania, unlike most states, some misdemeanors could lead to a jail sentence for more than a year—and you might even have to serve time in state prison for the most serious misdemeanors.

This article gives a basic overview of how sentencing works in the state, the different degrees of misdemeanors and maximum sentences for each of them, and potential alternatives to jail as punishment for misdemeanors.

How Pennsylvania Classifies and Punishes Misdemeanors

Pennsylvania divides misdemeanors into three degrees with a maximum penalty set by degree.

The maximum sentence of incarceration for a misdemeanor is:

  • first-degree misdemeanor: five years
  • second-degree misdemeanor: two years, and
  • third-degree misdemeanor: one year.

As a general rule, a misdemeanor fine can't be higher than twice the amount of your financial gain from the crime. If the fine amount is not based on illegal gains, the maximum fine for the degree of misdemeanor is:

  • first-degree misdemeanor: $10,000
  • second-degree misdemeanor: $5,000, or
  • third-degree misdemeanor: $2,500.

Many individual crimes, however, have different maximum sentences than the standard ones listed above. For instance, possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use carries a maximum jail sentence in Pennsylvania of 30 days and a $500 fine, even though it's a misdemeanor. Many individual misdemeanor crimes also have different maximum fines, and some require minimum fines in addition to incarceration.

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 106, 1101, 1104; 35 Pa. Stat. § 780-113(g); 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 9726, 9758 (2023).)

Examples of Misdemeanor Crimes in Pennsylvania

Below are just a few examples of crimes that Pennsylvania treats as misdemeanors.

Misdemeanors of the First Degree

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 2504, 3903, 3929 (2023).)

Misdemeanors of the Second Degree

  • Failure to disperse after an order to do so.
  • Simple assault.
  • Spreading a nude or sexual image of a current or former intimate partner without consent (sometimes called "revenge porn").

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 2701, 3131, 5502 (2023).)

Misdemeanors of the Third Degree

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 2709, 3903, 5503 (2023).)

When Previous Convictions Turn Misdemeanors Into Felonies

Some crimes that are generally treated as misdemeanors in Pennsylvania can become felonies, depending on your prior record. For example, stalking is generally a first-degree misdemeanor, but it's a third-degree felony if you have a previous conviction for stalking, certain violent crimes, or violating a protective order.

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2709.1 (2023).)

How Misdemeanor Sentencing Works in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's criminal sentencing rules are complicated, and judges have considerable leeway when deciding on a sentence.

For most crimes, Pennsylvania uses what's known as "indeterminate" sentencing. This means that when you're convicted and sentenced to incarceration, the judge will set a minimum and maximum term—such as one to two years. As a general rule, the maximum can't be more than the legal limit for your crime (as discussed below), and the minimum can't be more than half of the maximum.

Misdemeanor Sentencing Guidelines

The state has sentencing guidelines to help Pennsylvania judges decide on the most appropriate sentence (within the legal limits), based on factors such as your criminal record and aggravating or mitigating circumstances. However, these are only guidelines; judges aren't legally required to follow them.

(204 Pa. Admin. Code §§ 303.1 to 303.18 (2023).)

Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Some Misdemeanors

Pennsylvania requires mandatory minimum sentences for some misdemeanors and under some circumstances. This means that the lower end of the indeterminate sentence range must be for at least a certain amount of time. For example:

  • If you're convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) with one prior (a third-degree misdemeanor), you must serve at least five days in jail and up to a maximum of six months, plus pay a fine of $300 to $2,500.
  • While manufacturing a controlled substance is a third-degree misdemeanor, if you're convicted of manufacturing meth, you must be sentenced to at least two years of incarceration, without probation, parole, or work release.

(75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 3802, 3803, 3804; 35 Pa. Stat. § 780-113 (2023).)

Incarceration Options for Misdemeanors

In Pennsylvania, the maximum term of your sentence will determine where you're incarcerated, rather than the category of the crime you committed. You'll serve your time in county jail (or what may be called county prison in Pennsylvania) if the maximum term in your sentence is two years or less. As a general rule, you'll go to state prison for sentences that are longer than that, unless certain conditions are met—including whether the local jail can handle inmates with sentences of up to five years.

(42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 9756, 9762 (2023).)

Misdemeanor Parole

You'll be eligible for parole consideration after serving the minimum term of your sentence. Even before you've served the minimum, however, you might be eligible for parole as part of a reentry plan, as long as your maximum sentence was less than two years.

Probation and Sentencing Alternatives for Misdemeanors in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania law allows various alternatives to a sentence in jail for a misdemeanor.

Probation Sentences for Misdemeanors

Depending on the circumstances, you may receive a sentence of probation instead of incarceration (unless there's a mandatory minimum sentence for your crime) or what's known as a "split sentence," which means you'll spend part of the sentence in jail and the rest on probation.

The judge will consider several factors when deciding whether to order either form of probation in your case, including whether:

  • you have any criminal history
  • you're likely to respond well to probation supervision, and
  • a prison sentence would result in excessive hardship for you or your dependents.

Probation generally comes with conditions that the defendant must abide by or risk being sent to jail.

(42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 9721, 9722, 9726, 9754 (2023).)

Misdemeanor Jail Alternatives

The judge also has the option of sentencing you to drug treatment or to partial confinement for a misdemeanor, which would allow you to leave prison for approved reasons like working, school, or taking care of your family. For some low-level misdemeanors like graffiti, you may be sentenced to supervised community service instead of incarceration. Finally, unless there's a mandatory minimum sentence, the judge might declare you guilty of a misdemeanor without imposing any additional penalty.

(42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 9720, 9722, 9724, 9753, 9755 (2023).)

Restitution for Misdemeanors

If you're convicted of a misdemeanor that involved stealing or damaging the victim's property, or the victim was injured during the crime, the judge will order you to pay restitution. Payment of the ordered restitution will be a condition of any probation or parole, but you shouldn't be incarcerated for failure to pay if you simply weren't able to do so.

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1106; 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9721 (2023).)

Find a Lawyer

Misdemeanor offenses in Pennsylvania have significant potential penalties, including a prison sentence. If you've been charged with a crime, approached by investigators, or simply need legal advice about potential charges, you should talk to a qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney at your first available opportunity. An experienced defense lawyer in your area will be able to evaluate your case, advise you on your legal options—including the advantages and disadvantages of plea bargaining—and help you obtain the best outcome that's possible under the circumstances.

Talk to a Defense attorney
We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you