What Is A Summary Offence? (Victoria)

What Is A Summary Offence? (Victoria)The Victorian legal system categorizes criminal offences into two: summary and indictable offences. Summary offences are minor offences with light penalties handled at the magistrate level.

If you’ve been charged with a summary offence, it’s essential to understand the crucial details. If you’ve been charged with a summary offence, then a criminal defence lawyer can help you prepare the right defence to help you build a defence for your case.

Common Summary Offences

Summary offences, listed in the Summary Offences Act 1966, are minor offences heard at the magistrate’s court. The most common offences in this category include:

  • Property damage
  • Minor assault
  • Traffic violations
  • Offensive behaviour
  • Public order disturbances
  • Advertising of sexually explicit content
  • Trespassing

Just because summary offences are “minor” does not mean that all consequences from these offences are minor, some of these offences can result in very large fines and even imprisonment.

Court Process For Summary Offences

All summary offences are heard in the magistrate courts, except in specific circumstances mentioned in the Criminal Procedure Act 2009. Under such circumstances, they’ll be heard in the county or supreme court.

The prosecuting agency (usually a police prosecutor) has 12 months from the offence date to initiate the court process. The process is as follows:

Mention Hearing

The mention hearing is the first hearing, and the accused can plead “guilty” or “not guilty” for the charge. If you plead guilty, the magistrate will decide your penalty on the same day or later. If you plead not guilty, your case moves to a contested hearing.

Contest Mention

During the contest mention, the magistrate will explore a few options to resolve the case. These options include:

  • The prosecutor deciding to withdraw the case entirely
  • The prosecutor and offender deciding to narrow the issue
  • The offender deciding to plead guilty.

If every option fails, the magistrate will list both parties for a contested hearing and inquire how long the parties need to prepare. The magistrate will also issue court directions on how and when to conduct the hearing.

Contested Hearing

The prosecutor and offender will present their case during the contested hearing. Both parties will table their evidence, and the court will call witnesses for cross-examination. Ultimately, the magistrate will give a final verdict and either punish or acquit the offender.

Notably, offenders don’t have to be present during court hearings for summary offences. In ex-parte hearings, the magistrate will determine your case based on the prosecutor’s evidence and witness statements.

Can Summary Offences Be Handled In County And Supreme Court?

According to sections 242 and 243 of Victoria’s Criminal Procedure Act, summary offences can be heard in county or supreme courts under circumstances like:

  • The offender is planning to plead guilty in a separate indictable offence (even if non-related to the summary offence)
  • The summary offence is related to an indictable offence to be heard in a county or supreme court.

Conversely, indictable cases can also be heard summarily if the nature of the offence is trivial and can count as a summary offence. If so, the county or supreme court will follow the procedure for a summary offence hearing and impose the penalties stipulated in the Summary Offence Act.

Serious offences cannot be heard summarily and will be handled as indictable. Examples of such offences are

  • Manslaughter
  • Rape
  • Armed robbery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Human and drug trafficking
  • Kidnapping
  • Terrorism

Penalties For Summary Offences

The penalties for summary offences vary depending on the nature of the crime and your criminal history. These offences carry a 2-year maximum prison sentence and fines not exceeding 240 penalty units, or $46,164.40.

A summary offence will rarely result in the maximum penalty. Lighter offences attract much lower amounts of penalty units and other less severe penalties, including:

Community Corrections Order (CCO)

With CCOs, offenders serve their sentence within the community under stringent terms and conditions. The court will assign a parole or corrections community officer to oversee their sentence and ensure they abide by the terms and conditions.

Court Warnings

Offenders may get off with court warnings for trivial offences or if they put up a strong defence. They’re especially common with first offenders, but there’s a limit to how many court warnings you can receive.

Conclusion

A summary offence isn’t considered a major crime, but this is no reason to brush it off. These offences remain part of your disclosable court outcome (DCO) in your criminal history check. Plus, two years in prison is quite a long time, not to mention the hefty fines.

If charged with a warranty offence, your best bet is to consult a reputable criminal defence lawyer to represent you in court. Our highly experienced lawyers can review your case and find the best possible defence to reduce your punishment or to get the case dismissed entirely where possible.

Were you recently charged with a summary offence? You can call us today on 03 8658 5872 and request a free consultation with one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers.

Further Reading And Resource

  1. https://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/in-force/acts/summary-offences-act-1966/131
  2. https://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/in-force/acts/criminal-procedure-act-2009
  3. https://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/community-corrections-orders

 

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