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

How long after an assault can you press charges? This is a question criminal lawyers are often asked. First of all, it must be stressed that it is the police, and not the alleged victim of an offence, who make the decision as to whether or not to lay charges. The limitation period for laying charges depends on the nature of the alleged offending. While there is a short limitation period for laying summary charges, serious offences like aggravated assault and murder are not subject to any limitation period.

In Victoria, the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 sets the time limits for commencing criminal proceedings.

How long after a summary assault can you press charges?

Under Section 7 of the Criminal Procedure Act, police must commence a proceeding for a summary offence in Victoria within 12 months of the date of the alleged offence except where legislation provides for a longer limitation period or where both parties consent to proceedings being commenced after the expiry of this period.

Summary offences are minor offences which are finalised in the magistrates Court. These include traffic offences such as drink driving or driving unlicensed as well as offences under the Summary Offences Act 1966  such as being drunk and disorderly in public.  The maximum penalty the Magistrates Court can impose for a single offence is two years imprisonment.

Common assault is a summary offence under section 23 of the Summary Offences Act. A common assault is an assault that occurs without any circumstances of aggravation, such as the victim suffering harm or being a child or a female. The penalty for a common assault is a maximum of three months imprisonment.  An aggravated assault is also a summary offence in Victoria (unlike in most other states) as the maximum penalty for an aggravated assault is imprisonment for two years.

This means that in Victoria, police can charge a person with a common assault or an aggravated assault for up to 12 months after the alleged offence. At that point, the limitation period expired.

How long after an indictable assault can you press charges?

In Victoria, there is no limitation period for laying a charge for an indictable offence. This means that the police can charge a person with an indictable offence many years – even decades – after the alleged offending.

Assaults that are indictable offences in Victoria include assaults with intent to commit an indictable offence and assaults on emergency workers and custodial officers. Intentionally or recklessly causing injury, serious injury, or grievous bodily harm are also indictable offences.

Sexual assaults and other sexual offences are also indictable offences.

This means that if a person in Victoria assaults a person causing injury, such as a cut, bruise, broken bone or burns they can be charged with an offence at any time in the future.

Historical offences

Offences that occurred long ago are often called ‘historical offences.’

Prosecuting a person for historical offences can be challenging. Sometimes, it is harder to prove a person guilty of an assault beyond a reasonable doubt when a lot of time has passed since the assault as memories may have faded and physical evidence may no longer exist. In other situations, the passage of time may actually make it easier to prove that a person committed an assault – such as where DNA evidence has been preserved and technologies can be used  that did not exist at the time. For this reason, prosecutions that were abandoned long ago are sometimes reopened and succeed in securing a conviction.

Reporting historical offences

If you have been the victim of an assault that was not reported, you may still be able to make a report to police and give a statement and the police may still be able to commence a prosecution should they choose to do so. However, you will need to determine whether there is any indictable offence that could be laid in relation to what happened in order to work out how long after the assault police can lay charges.

If you have an indictable offence to report, you can contact the Victorian police to let them know this either by phone, online or in person. However, historical offences are generally treated as non-urgent so you may not be able to organise to make a statement to police straight away.

The decision as to whether or not to lay charges against an alleged offender is ultimately at the police’s discretion and will be made based on how serious the allegations are and how strong the case is against the accused, as well as other factors.

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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