BY MARIJANA HAWKINS
A criminal offence is an offence or “crime” against the state, as also known as breaking the law. When laws are broken, and they’re considered crimes against the state (or government), they’re known as criminal offences. Crimes against the state are offences which are considered harmful to other people or the community.
What are some examples of criminal offences?
- Drug offences
- Being drunk in public and underage drinking
- Weapons and threats
- Illegal public behaviour (for example, littering, racial vilification, spitting)
- Hindering Police (making it difficult for Police to perform their duties)
- Arson (setting fire to a property) and property damage
- Contempt of Court (refusing to cooperate with a Court)
- Perjury (lying to a Court)
How can I be punished if I allegedly commit a criminal offence?
Criminal offences are usually punishable in some way, for example, the issuing of fines, licence suspensions, and the issuing of criminal charges, by way of a charge sheet or notice to appear.
These documents will provide details about the offence including: what offence you have been charged with, what the police allege you did and when your matter is going to be heard in Court. It is very important to get legal advice about this. Charges are heard in Court, and if you are found guilty, this could result in a variety of penalties, such as Court fines, community work or imprisonment.
My charge sheet says I have been charged with an INDICTABLE offence. What does this mean?
Indictable offences are more serious offences. Depending on the severity of the allegations the Magistrates’ Court may deal with these offences, but sometimes the County or Supreme Court will hear them. Sometimes they are heard before a Magistrate, a judge, and in some situations a jury is involved.
The penalties are more severe and in some cases may include imprisonment.
Examples of indictable offences are:
- Injuring another person
- Drug offences
- Serious sexual offences
- Armed robbery
Other offences are called summary offences, which are not as serious as indictable offences. They’re often heard in the Magistrates’ Court. Examples of summary offences include
- Being drunk in public
- Minor assault
- Disorderly behaviour
Are there time limits in which police can charge me for certain offences?
If the Police suspect you of committing an indictable offence, they can charge you any time after the offence occurred.
The time limit in which police have to charge an adult (over 18 years) with a summary offence is 12 months from the date of a summary offence being committed.
The time limit in which police have to charge a child (under 18 years) with a summary offence is, generally, 6 months from the date of a summary offence being committed.
I am in Police custody, what do I do?
If you are in Police custody, you are required to provide your name and address. You should not answer any other questions without first speaking to a lawyer. Get legal advice immediately.
To learn more about being questioned by Police, visit:
- Our page on Police powers
- Victoria Legal Aid’s website page Being questioned
I need to speak to a lawyer about the charge sheet/infringement notice. Where do I go for help?
If you’re charged with a criminal offence, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Barwon Community Legal Service provides limited advice on minor criminal law matters. We can refer to you Victoria Legal Aid for free advice and representation, or a private lawyer.
Victoria Legal Aid can provide free services, including:
- Providing legal advice over the phone
- Arranging a translator
- Arranging help if you have a hearing or speech impairment
- Providing duty solicitor services at Court or while you’re in Police custody, depending on the circumstances
For more information, contact Victoria Legal Aid or a private criminal lawyer.
Marijana Hawkins is a community lawyer at Barwon Community Legal Service and predominantly assists Deakin students with their legal issues. In a past life, Marijana also worked as a youth criminal lawyer. During this time Marijana appeared for many clients’ charged with criminal offences in the Magistrates’ Court and urges clients to get legal advice immediately if they have been charged with a criminal offence or issued with an infringement notice. There is FREE help available.