In Canada, there are two categories of criminal offences: summary and indictable. Generally speaking, they mainly differ in terms of the severity of the crime and resulting sentence. In this article we will define the term summary conviction and discuss examples of summary conviction offences and their impact on those who are convicted.
A summary offence (also known as a summary conviction offence) is defined in Canada as an offence which is resolved without the use of a jury or indictment. It is commonly thought of as a less serious offence in comparison to its more serious counterpart, the indictable offence. An example of a straight indictable offence is murder.
Summary offences are given sentences according to a different set of rules and regulations, generally involving lower sentencing guidelines. Learn about what a summary conviction means.
Can an offence be tried as either summary or indictable?
The answer is yes, and many criminal offences fall under this category. If an offence can be tried as either summary or indictable, it is referred to as a dual procedure or hybrid offence.
An example of this case would be if an offence is particularly serious, or if the offender has a prior criminal record. In this case, the Crown attorney could decide to elect by indictment in order to allow for more severe sentencing options. Examples of these include:
- Impaired driving
- Theft under $5,000
- Sexual assault
The final decision with respect to electing either summarily or by indictment for a dual procedure offence is at the discretion of the Crown attorney.
Examples of summary conviction offences
In the Canadian Criminal Code, there are some offences which are known as “pure” or “straight” summary conviction offences, meaning that they are not dual procedure offences. These are generally less serious offences.
According to section 787 of the Canada Criminal Code, $5,000 is the maximum fine that can be imposed (with or without jail time of up to six months) for all straight summary conviction offences unless a greater jail term or fine is specifically provided for in the Criminal Code.
The list of summary conviction offences includes:
- Unlawful assembly
- Soliciting prostitution
- Harassing phone calls
- Causing a public disturbance
- Public nudity
- Trespassing at night
- Fraudulently obtaining transportation
Characteristics of summary offences
- Pure summary offences generally have some features in common, which include the following:
- The accused is ordered to be in court on a certain day and time.
- The accused cannot be tried by a jury and cannot choose to have a preliminary hearing or to be tried in a higher court.
- The accused does not have to submit any fingerprints or have a mugshot taken under the Identification of Criminals Act
- The police are allowed to make an arrest without a warrant
- Summary conviction offences are tried in provincial court, while appeals are made to the next highest court. For example, in Ontario a summary conviction appeal is heard in the Superior Court of Justice.
- The accused is not required to appear in court personally unless specifically ordered by the Judge. They can either choose to have their lawyer or an agent represent them.
Statute of limitations in the Canada Criminal Code
When it comes to summary offences, the accused must be charged within six months of the offence. After this time frame, they cannot legally be charged unless the offence qualifies as a dual procedure offence (or is actually a straight indictable offence).
This statute of limitations for summary offences is in place for several reasons, but mainly so that the accused won’t be prosecuted based on new public mores and opinions that did not exist at the time of the offence.
Summary conviction appeals
In the case of a summary conviction, the finding of guilt by a judge can be appealed within 30 days of the initial decision. An extension can be filed in the case of extenuating circumstances.
An appeal in this case will allow the defendant to represent themselves. Despite this and the fact that summary offences are typically seen as “less serious” than indictable ones, it is always advisable to seek legal help from professional criminal defence lawyers.
This decision could have a profound effect on an individual’s life, including jeopardizing employment, housing and more. It’s not to be taken lightly, so seeking the help of qualified legal counsel is the best course of action.