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

How long after an assault can you press charges? This is a question lawyers are often asked. First of all, it is important to understand that it is the police and not the victim of a crime who make the decision whether or not to press charges. 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, the police may lay charges up to 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 if the police make the decision to lay charges.

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.

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.

It is important to remember that even if you make a statement to police about a crime, the police may choose not to lay charges. Ultimately, it is up to the police to decide whether or not to pursue a prosecution. It is not up to the victim of the alleged crime.

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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