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Understanding Summary Offences in South Australia

You should obtain legal advice before deciding how to handle a criminal charge, even if the crime is minor

A summary offence is a crime, but a less serious crime than an indictable offence. Some summary offences are expiatable offences that can be resolved by paying an expiation fee to avoid prosecution. More serious summary offences require an appearance in court. You should always obtain legal advice before going to court on a summary offence.

How Do I Know if a Crime is a Summary Offence?

  • A crime is a summary offence if it:
  • is not punishable by imprisonment and has a maximum fine of less than $120,000; or
  • has a maximum sentence of imprisonment of 2 years or less; or
  • is an offence of dishonesty (other than robbery and other crimes that are regarded as crimes of violence) that resulted in a loss of $2,500 or less, regardless of the maximum sentence.

Disorderly behaviour, minor criminal damage to property, and driving under the influence of alcohol or a drug are examples of summary offences.

How are Summary Offences Handled?

If the police decide to lay a complaint for a summary offence, you will receive a Summons that tells you to report to Magistrate’s Court at a particular date or time. In more serious cases (particularly when the police witness a crime being committed), the accused may be arrested. When that happens, bail will usually be set by the police. If bail is refused, the accused has the right to have bail set promptly by the Magistrate’s Court.

What should I do if I receive a Summons?

It is best to obtain legal advice before you go to court. In most cases, if you receive a Summons you do not need to attend the first court appearance if a lawyer appears on your behalf. If neither you nor your lawyer appears, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

The charges are prosecuted in Magistrate’s Court by a police prosecutor. Your lawyer will have an opportunity to discuss the case with the prosecutor. Many cases can be resolved through a process of negotiation.

What if I Want a Trial?

You have the right to a trial before you can be convicted of a summary offence. Unlike indictable offences, there is no right to a jury trial for a summary offence. If there is a trial, the Magistrate decides whether the Crown proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A trial will take place at some point after the first court appearance if you plead “not guilty” and if you persist in that plea.

In some cases, the availability of a strong defence makes a trial a wise choice. You should always discuss that choice with a lawyer. If you are likely to be found guilty, entering a guilty plea at an early stage usually results in a more lenient punishment. A lawyer can evaluate your chance of success at a trial and can advise you accordingly.

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