Summary Offence: The Need To Know
06 October, 2023
A summary offence is a crime that is punishable by a monetary fine, a short term of imprisonment, or both. They are typically minor offences or violations that are less serious in nature. Examples are shoplifting, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and speeding violations. One key feature is that it is heard and decided by a judge alone, without a jury trial. This allows for a more streamlined legal process, as there is no extensive evidence gathering or witness testimony.
A summary conviction differs from an indictable offence in that the maximum penalty is much lower for them. However, it is important to note that while they may seem minor, they can still have significant consequences. A conviction will appear on a person’s criminal record and can be seen by potential employers or those who conduct background checks. In this article, we will explore what this type of offence is, the penalties and charges, and its implications.
Definition of Summary Offence
A summary offence, or summary conviction, is a type of criminal offence that is less serious than a felony. It is often referred to as a misdemeanour in some jurisdictions. In addition, it is a minor infraction that is handled in lower-level courts and does not require a trial by jury.
The process for handling these offences varies by jurisdiction. However, it usually involves a citation or arrest by law enforcement, followed by a court appearance. A person has two options to respond to a minor conviction: either plead guilty or not guilty. In some cases, the accused may plead guilty and pay the set fine without appearing in court.
Individuals also have the right to contest the charges and present a defence in court. The burden of proof is typically lower than for felonies, as the prosecution only needs to establish that the person committed the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. Overall, it is a less serious crime and is resolved quickly with less severe consequences.
Common Offence Examples
- Petty theft: stealing items of low value.
- Shoplifting: stealing goods from a store.
- Public intoxication: inebriation in a public place and causing a disturbance.
- Vandalism: intentionally damaging or destroying property belonging to others.
- Disorderly conduct: engaging in disruptive or offensive behaviour in public.
- Trespassing: unlawfully entering someone else’s property without permission.
- Traffic offences: driving offences, such as speeding, running a red light, or dangerous driving.
- Common assault: inflicting violence on another person. To be charged with assault, a person has to make another believe they are about to be attacked.
- Illegal possession of liquor: minors possessing or consuming liquor in a public place.
Penalties and Charges of a Summary Offence
The charges for summary offences vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific offence committed. Generally, the penalties are relatively minor, such as a small fine, a few hours of community service, and probation. It focuses more on rehabilitation rather than punishment. For example, low-risk drink driving may require an individual to attend an alcohol awareness program.
In some cases, the offence may carry more significant penalties. These may include higher fines, longer periods of probation, and brief periods of imprisonment. For instance, disorderly conduct or drug possession may be classified as summary convictions, but the penalties can be severe. A judge will determine the punishment after considering all relevant evidence.
The charges can also vary based on the individual’s prior criminal record. Repeat offenders may face more severe penalties, including longer periods of incarceration or increased fines. In the case of drink driving, repeat offenders may get an alcohol interlock order. Additionally, the circumstances surrounding the case, such as harm caused to others, can influence the severity of the penalties.
Are Most Offences Punishable up to Maximum?
The punishments for summary convictions are lesser than those for indictable offences. The maximum penalty a person can receive is a two-year imprisonment. A minor shoplifting case may lead to a fine and demerit points. On the other hand, more serious offences could lead to jail time.
As a general rule, prison terms longer than two years are treated as an indictable charge and may reach the Supreme Court. However, it is possible for a judge to impose the maximum penalty where an individual has a prior criminal record. It is important to consult the specific legislation in each state or territory.
What Happens When Charged with a Summary Offence
There are several outcomes after getting a summary offence charge. Firstly, the individual will receive a notice to appear in court. The notice usually contains details about the offence and any conditions of release. A person may seek legal advice to help them prepare for their court hearing. A lawyer can help reduce the charges or negotiate a plea bargain.
At the hearing, the individual will enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. If pleading guilty, the accused can pay a fine, which results in a quick resolution to the case. On the other hand, if pleading not guilty, the person must present a defence in court. The prosecution must then prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the offence.
The prosecution and defence must present evidence and legal arguments before a judge or magistrate to make a verdict. If found guilty, the accused may face the corresponding penalties. If the case is related to drug offences, the person may need to attend counselling or rehabilitation programs for substance abuse. Overall, the outcome can vary depending on the specific circumstances.
When to Seek for Legal Advice
Individuals should seek legal advice after a law enforcement charge. It is crucial, especially for people who receive a wrongful accusation or believe there is insufficient evidence. Experienced criminal lawyers can help the accused understand their rights and the charges they are facing.
Legal experts can also guide the individual on how to proceed with the case. It may include a plea bargain or presenting a defence in court. Additionally, individuals should seek advice if they have prior convictions or a criminal record. Having legal representation at a hearing can help improve the chance of receiving lenient penalties.
Summary offences are minor criminal cases that can result in fines, probation, and brief periods of imprisonment. Common examples are minor theft offences, illegal drug possession, damage to property, and disorderly behaviour in public. These cases are dealt with in a lower court under the rule of a judge or magistrate with a jury trial. Furthermore, the penalties are less severe than those for indictable offences. The maximum penalty includes a two-year imprisonment, depending on the person’s records.
It is essential to seek legal advice if a person faces summary convictions. A lawyer can help explain the specific charges and represent the accused in court. With a strong defence, the person may get less severe punishments. Finally, individuals must understand that even though the penalties may be minor, they can still appear in their records, which can have a significant impact on their lives.