This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom - Content Editor - Brisbane

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. She also completed a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at the College of Law in Victoria. 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.

How Long After An Assault Can You Press Charges? (NSW)


?ow long after an assault can you press charges? This is a question lawyers are often asked. The answer to the question of how long after an offence police can lay charges depends on the limitation period that applies to the offence. Some offences are subject to a relatively short limitation period, while others have no limitation period at all.

How long after a summary offence can you press charges?

Summary offences are minor offences that are dealt with in the Local Court. These include driving offences like speeding and drink driving and public order offences under the Summary Offences Act 1988 such as drunk and disorderly and obscene exposure. These offences carry maximum penalties of short terms of imprisonment but are often dealt with by way of a fine or a good behaviour bond.

A summary offence can generally be charged up to six months after the offence is alleged to have occurred. This is set out in section 179 of the Criminal Procedure Act. However, police may have a longer period of time to lay a charge in relation to a summary offence if the relevant legislation provides for a longer limitation period.

Summary offence that has resulted in a death

In New South Wales, when a summary offence has resulted in a death and an inquest into the death has been held, charges must be laid no longer than six months after the conclusion of the inquest and no more than two years after the date of the alleged offence.

How long after an assault can you press charges?

Indictable offences are more serious offences such as assault, sexual assault and murder. Some indictable offences – such as assault – can be heard in the Local Court when both defence and prosecution agree to this. More serious indictable offences – such as murder and manslaughter – must be dealt with on indictment in the Supreme Court.

There is no limitation period for laying charges for indictable offences in New South Wales. This means that a person can be charged with a serious offence that they committed many years – even decades – earlier.

The challenge for prosecutors when charges are laid in respect of crimes committed long ago (often called ‘historical offences’) is that it may be more difficult to prove a person guilty of an offence when a lot of time has passed since it happened.

In some cases, however, the passage of time can make it easier to prove a person guilty of a crime as new technology – such as the ability to collect and analyse DNA evidence – has developed since the events in question. For this reason, old prosecutions that were abandoned long ago due to insufficient evidence are sometime reopened and a conviction secured that could not have been secured at the time.

What if the penalties have changed?

When a person is found guilty of an offence a long time after the events occurred, they are sentenced based on the sentencing practices that existed at the time of the offence. It is common for the maximum and minimum sentence in relation to an offence to change over time. It is also possible for sentencing practices to change, as case law develops and societal norms and attitudes change. Courts are mindful of this when sentencing offenders for historical offences and make sure not to impose a penalty that is significantly different to what the offender would have received had they been dealt with at the time of the offending.

Reporting historical offences

If you were the victim of an indictable offence such as assault in the past and you want to report the offence, you can do so by contacting your local police station. If the offences in question were domestic violence offences, you can ask to speak to the Police Domestic Violence Liaison Officer (DVLO). If the offences were sexual offences, you should ask to speak to the detectives to make a report.

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

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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