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Summary Offences in the ACT

In the ACT, a person may be charged with a summary offence or an indictable offence. Summary offences are minor criminal offences that are dealt with in the Magistrates Court, while indictable offences are more serious offences that can be dealt with by the higher courts. This page deals with summary offences in the ACT.

Which offences are summary offences?

Summary offences include traffic offences such as drink driving, speeding, driving whilst disqualified and dangerous driving. Minor criminal offences under the Crimes Act 1900 are also summary offences. These include common assault under section 26 of the Crimes Act 1900, offensive behaviour under section 392 and fighting under section 391.

Penalties for summary offences

In the ACT, the maximum penalty a magistrate can impose for a single offence is two years imprisonment. Some summary offences have maximum penalties that are shorter than two years, and some are punishable by a fine only – for example, the offence of fighting carries a maximum penalty of a fine of 20 penalty units.

Indictable offences heard summarily

Under section 190 of the Legislation Act 2001, indictable offences in the ACT are offences that are punishable by a penalty of two years imprisonment or more, or which legislation declares to be indictable offences.

Indictable offences that have a maximum penalty of between two and five years imprisonment can be heard summarily (in the Magistrates Court) if both parties agree to this and the magistrate considers it is appropriate in the circumstances. Indictable offences that can be heard summarily include stealing and fraud.

If a person is charged with an indictable offence that is not to be heard summarily, they must go through a committal hearing and if the evidence is sufficient, the matter will be committed to the Supreme Court for finalisation there.

Limitation period

A limitation period is the amount of time that prosecutors have to commence a prosecution after an offence. Summary offences in the ACT have a limitation period of 12 months, except where the legislation specifies another limitation period. Once the limitation period has passed, police cannot lay a charge.

Pleading guilty to summary offences in the ACT

If you have been charged with summary offences in the ACT, you will be arrested or summonsed to appear in the Magistrates Court (or Children’s Court if you are under 18).

When you attend court, you may be able to finalise the matter on the spot if you are pleading guilty to the charges. However, in many cases, it is preferable to adjourn the matter and seek legal advice. An Armstrong Legal criminal solicitor will assist you by identifying:

  • Whether the charges that have been laid are the most appropriate ones
  • Whether there are any defences available
  • The likely penalty range in your situation

Your lawyer will also go through the police summary of facts with you. If there are any statements in this document that you disagree with, they may be able to negotiate to have the facts amended prior to you pleading guilty to the charge. The court will sentence you based on this summary, so it is important that it accurately reflects what happened.

Your lawyer may also be able to negotiate for the withdrawal of charges or the replacement of a charge with a more appropriate charge after hearing your instructions about what happened.

Pleading not guilty to summary offences in the ACT

If you have been charged with summary offences in the ACT and you want to plead not guilty, an Armstrong Legal Lawyer will obtain the prosecution brief of evidence and talk you through the strengths and weaknesses in the case against you and the viability of any defences.

If you plead not guilty, your matter will be set down for a contested hearing. On this day, a magistrate will hear evidence and submissions from both parties before deciding whether you have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you are found guilty after a hearing, the magistrate will then impose the sentence they consider appropriate given the seriousness of the offence and your circumstances.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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