What is a criminal offence?26 October 2021 in Criminal Law
What is a criminal offence?
A criminal offence is a crime or offence that is considered as a crime against the state or government. They are considered harmful to other people or the community.
Examples of criminal offences include:
- Public intoxication and underage drinking;
- Acts intended to cause injury;
- Public order offences; and
- Drug offences.
Who can charge you?
The type of alleged criminal offence and where it was alleged to occur dictates who will charge you. You may be charged by:
- The police;
- Transport for NSW;
- NSW Environment Protection Authority;
- Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions or Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions; or
- A private prosecution.
The individual who runs the case against you in court is known as the prosecutor. They are generally required to prove to the court that you committed the alleged offence to a certain standard of proof.
Documents you may receive
If you are charged with a criminal offence you will receive a Court Attendance Notice (CAN). The CAN will tell you:
- the date and time you have to go to court;
- what court you have to go to;
- the name of the police officer or authorised officer;
- what you have been charged with.
You may also receive additional documents depending on what you have been charged with.
If you have been charged with an offence involving violence you may receive an application for Apprehended Violence Order or a Provisional Apprehended Violence Order and a statement from the victim.
If you have been charged with a drink driving offence you should receive a Certificate of Blood Alcohol Concentration.
If you are charged by the police away from a police statement you may be given a ‘field CAN’. This lists the offence or offences you have been charged with.
When charged by the police you will also receive a Police Facts Sheet, which is usually attached to the CAN. This tells the versions of events according to the police.
Different types of charges
In New South Wales there are two main charges, indictable offences and summary offences.
Indictable offences are an offence which may be prosecuted on indictment (Section 3 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986). They are more serious charges than summary offences and carry maximum penalties of more than 2 years imprisonment for a single offence. These offences include:
- assault occasioning actual bodily harm;
- common assault;
- break and enter;
- stalking and intimidation; and
- certain drug offences.
Strictly indicatable offences are charges considered more serious than indictable offences and do not have the option to be elected to be dealt with in the Local Court. These offences include:
- sexual assault;
- knowingly dealing with proceeds of crime;
- assault causing grievous bodily harm; and
- armed robbery causing grievous bodily harm.
Indictable offences do not have a limitation period, meaning that charges can be laid whenever the evidence emerges.
While indictable offences are generally dealt with in the District or Supreme Court, they may be elected to be dealt with in the Local Court, known as being heard summarily. If an indictable offence is elected to be heard summarily, the maximum penalty which can be imposed for a single offence becomes two years.
Summary offences are minor offences that are heard in the Local Court, carrying a maximum of two years imprisonment for a single offence and are considered less serious than indictable offences. These offences include:
- drink driving;
- minor drug drugs;
- offensive conduct or language; and
- indecent exposure.
Summary offences have a limitation period of six months, meaning that you cannot be charged if the alleged offence occurred more than six months ago.