The NSW Summary Offences Act (1988), identifies a number of different offences which are considered ‘summary’ offences. These are generally considered to be minor offences, which are dealt with in a specific manner and have certain maximum penalties. If you have been charged with a summary offence, you could still face a lifelong criminal conviction and penalisation, but the penalties will not be as severe as they would be for a more serious offence.
What is a summary offence?
Summary offences are dealt with in the local court by a magistrate, rather than in a higher court. Some offences under the NSW Summary Offences Act are strictly dealt with summarily, while some can be dealt with as indictable offences if the defence or prosecution chooses. Examples of summary offences include offensive conduct, obscene exposure and custody of an offensive implement.
Will I have to go to court for a summary offence?
You will usually have to go to court for a summary offence. Summary offences are dealt with in the local court by a judge or magistrate so you will not be required to go through a full jury trial. As summary offences are generally more minor than indictable offences, they are usually finalised more quickly.
If you plead guilty to a summary offence you will probably only need to attend court once, and the matter will be finalised the same day. If you plead not guilty you will be required to attend court at a later date, where the prosecution will present their evidence against you and you will be given a chance to defend yourself.
Can I go to jail for a summary offence?
Although the penalties for summary offences are generally less harsh than for indictable offences, you can still potentially be sentenced to prison. The maximum jail sentence for a summary offence is two years. Other penalties you can face for a summary offence include fines, suspended sentences, good behaviour bonds and community service.
Your chances of going to jail are greatly decreased if it is your first offence and you can demonstrate that you are of good character. Even though summary offences are considered relatively minor it is still a good idea to speak to a lawyer about the likely penalties you will face, and how you can defend yourself and ensure the lowest possible penalty.
Is it better to have my charges dealt with summarily or with a jury trial?
There are a number of charges where the defendant has the option of choosing whether they want the matter to be dealt with as a summary offence or as an indictable offence. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, and if you are facing a decision it is important to speak to a lawyer for advice. Although the penalties are generally less for a summary offence, in some cases a jury trial may allow for a more fair hearing and a better outcome.
The legal system can be daunting, particularly if you are facing criminal charges for the first time. If you have been charged with an offence under the NSW Summary Offences Act, make sure you speak to a lawyer and do your research before making decisions about where to have your case heard, and your plea.