Summary Offences in the Victorian Legal System
Summary offences carry a maximum penalty of up to 2 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding 240 penalty units. If you have been charged with a summary offence, please contact our defence experts at Sher Criminal Lawyers immediately for specialist legal advice and representation.
What is a Summary Offence?
In Victoria, crimes are categorized as either summary offences or indictable offences. Summary offences are considered less serious than indictable offences.
Summary offences carry a maximum penalty of up to 2 years imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 240 penalty units for a single charge. However, some pieces of criminal legislation might prescribe greater penalties to certain summary offences.
Examples of summary offences in Victoria include:
- Disorderly behaviour (such as obscenity and sexual exposure)
- Certain assault offences (such as common and aggravated assault)
- Certain driving offences (such as drink and drug driving)
- Wilful damage to property (such as defacing property)
If you have been charged with a summary offence, please contact our defence experts at Sher Criminal Lawyers immediately for specialist legal advice and representation.
The Court Process for a Summary Offence in Victoria
Summary offences are heard and determined in the Magistrates’ Court.
However, sections 242 and 243 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 [CPA] (Vic) state that in some circumstances, summary offences may be heard summarily in the County or Supreme Court. This occurs if:
- The summary offences are related to indictable offences being trialled in the superior courts (unless the accused and the prosecution agree otherwise);
- The summary offences are unrelated, but the accused is before the court for an indictable offence and consents to the trial court hearing and determining the summary offence because they intend to plead guilty to that offence.
In such cases, the higher court must determine the summary charge summarily (i.e. in accordance with summary procedure). This means that no jury can be involved in determining the summary charges and the County Court can only impose a sentence that the Magistrates’ Court could have imposed in relation to those charges.
It should also be noted that some indictable offences can be trialled summarily in the Magistrate’s Court under certain circumstances. Please see ‘Indictable Offences’ for more information.
In the majority of cases, the prosecuting agency must commence summary proceedings against the accused within 12 months of the date of the offence.
Depending on whether the accused pleads guilty or not guilty, summary matters may involve several complex stages of legal procedure, including:
- Filing of Charges
- First Mention Hearing
- Summary Case Conference
- Contest Mention
- Contested Hearing
If the accused pleads guilty to a summary charge at the first mention hearing, the matter may be heard and finalised in one day. However, if the accused pleads not guilty at the contested hearing, the prosecution must prove each element of the relevant offence beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution’s failure to do so will result in the accused being found not guilty of that charge.
Please see ‘Magistrates’ Court Procedure’ for further information about the court process in relation to summary offences.
Penalties for a Summary Offence in Victoria
Summary offences can carry a maximum penalty of up to 2 years imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 240 penalty units for a single charge.
Some summary offences are punishable by a fine only. However, other summary offences can carry a sentence of imprisonment. The exact penalty is dependent on relevant criminal legislation.
If the accused is found guilty of a summary offence, a criminal conviction will likely be recorded. However, in certain circumstances, the Court may exercise its discretion to not record a conviction. In determining whether to exercise this discretion, the Court must consider:
- The nature of the offence; and
- The character and history of the offender; and
- The impact of a recorded conviction on the offender’s economic or social well-being or employment prospects.
It is essential to have an experienced legal expert present mitigating factors to the court on your behalf. Our team at Sher Criminal Lawyers can help you to collect and present evidence in relation to your offence, character, criminal record and the impact that a conviction would have on your life. Doing so can help you to secure the best possible outcome in your matter.
Summary Offence Legislation in Victoria
The majority of summary offences in Victoria are legislated under the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic). However, some summary charges may also arise out of common law.
The Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) also legislates a large number of summary offences, such as speeding and drink driving. Further, the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic) contains some summary offences such as possession of a small quantity of a drug of dependence.
Be Aware of Your Rights
In Victoria, admissions regarding a summary offence do not have to be recorded to be admitted into evidence by the prosecution. Further, the police may or may not have to caution you against self-incrimination when investigating or arresting you.
If you are arrested or under investigation for a criminal offence, tell the police that you would like to speak with a criminal lawyer immediately. Our defence experts at Sher Criminal Lawyers can provide you with emergency advice and act to protect your legal rights. What you do or do not say to the police could make a big difference to the outcome of your legal matter.
What to Do Next
If you have been charged or are under investigation for committing a summary offence, it is crucial to seek the assistance of an extensively experienced criminal lawyer. Our expert defence team at Sher Criminal Lawyers will help you to secure the best possible outcome in your matter by applying our specialist knowledge of the criminal law and the Victorian justice system.
Please contact us as soon as possible if you require legal advice and representation. We are available 24/7 and offer free consultations by way of Zoom, Facetime or in person at our Melbourne and Moorabbin offices.