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

How long after an assault can you press charges? This is a question criminal lawyers are often asked. Contrary to common perceptions, the decision to lay criminal charges is made by the police and not by the alleged victim of a crime. The limitation period for laying charges depends on the nature of the alleged conduct. 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.

How Long After A Simple Assault Can You Press Charges?

Under section 21 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2004, police must lay a charge of a simple offence within 12 months of the alleged offence except where legislation provides otherwise.

A simple offence is an offence that is finalised in the Magistrates Court. Examples of simple offences include common assault under section 313 of the Criminal Code and disorderly behaviour in public under section 74A of the Criminal Code. Traffic offences such as drink driving are also simple offences.

This means that persons who may have committed simple offences in Western Australia are liable to be charged with the offences only for a period of 12 months after the offence occurred.

How Long After An Indictable Assault Can You Press Charges?

Under section 3(6) of the Criminal Code, there is no limitation period for laying charges of indictable offences or either-way offences except where legislation provides for one.

This means that police in Western Australia can charge a person with an indictable offence, such as a serious assault, theft or murder, many years after the alleged offences or even decades later.

Why are there limits on how long after an assault you can press charges?

The limitation period that exists in respect of simple offences has been created so that there is certainty about which matters are going to have legal consequences. When a relatively minor offence has been committed, it is not in anyone’s interest for uncertainty to continue as to whether or not charges will result. It is also not practical for charges to be laid and prosecutions pursued in respect of minor offences that were committed long ago.

When a serious offence has been committed, it is in the public interest for prosecutors to have the power to commence an investigation and lay charges even when a lot of time has passed since the events in question. This is particularly the case in respect of violent offences and sexual offences which can have long-term consequences for their victims.

Victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults may have good reasons for being unable or unwilling to report offences and pursue a prosecution at the time the offences were committed and failure to do so should not prevent them from seeking justice once their circumstances have changed.

Historical offences

Offences that occurred long ago are often referred to as ‘historical offences.’ In some situations, it can be more difficult to secure a conviction in relation to a historical offence as witnesses’ memories may have faded and physical evidence may no longer exist.

In other situations, it can in fact be easier to secure a conviction for a historical offence than it was at the time of the offence. This may be because technologies – such as collecting and analysing DNA evidence – now exist that did not exist back then.

Reporting historical offences

If you have been the victim of an assault that was not reported or prosecuted at the time, you may want to consider making a report and giving a statement to police. Whether a prosecution will be able to commence will depend on how much time has passed and whether the assault was a simple offence or an indictable offence.

Ultimately, the decision as to whether to lay charges against an accused person is at the discretion of the police and this decision will depend on how serious the allegations are, how likely the accused is to be found guilty, and other factors.

If you require legal advice in relation to how long after an assault you can press charges or in any other 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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