Crimes which can only be heard and decided by a magistrate in the magistrates court are called summary offences. In general, these offences are less serious than indictable offences and the penalties that can be imposed are not as great. Summary offences make up the majority of the so called common offences, see common offences. A summary offence is defined by the Summary Procedure Act 1921 (SA) s5 as:
- offences not punishable by imprisonment and having a maximum fine of less than $120 000;
- having a maximum imprisonment of two years;
- including most dishonesty offences involving $2 500 or less (even if the maximum imprisonment is more than two years), but not including robbery, or offences of violence, or an offence that is one of a series of offences of the same or a similar character involving more than $2 500 in aggregate; and
- Also not including offences of arson or causing a bushfire.
Examples of summary offences are disorderly behaviour, driving under the influence of alcohol or a drug and minor criminal damage to property. People charged with summary offences cannot be tried by juries even if they would prefer it.
There is a time limit of two years to lay a complaint for a summary offence or six months if an expiation notice may be given for the offence [Summary Procedure Act 1921 (SA) s 52].
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