Summary Conviction vs. Indictable Offences
There is no such thing as a “Felony” or “Misdemeanor” in Canada. Crime and punishment television shows from the United States tend to confuse the average Canadian on how we classify offences. As entertaining as Orange is the New Black and Law and Order can be, many of the concepts and language used by the criminal lawyers and accused in those shows to describe criminal law is not applicable in a Canadian context.
The main types of criminal offences in Canada are summary conviction and indictable offences. There are also Hybrid offences where the Crown (Canadian word for prosecutor) chooses to proceed summarily or by indictment. Summary conviction offences are generally less serious and Indictable offences are more serious.
Summary Conviction Offences
Summary conviction offences are far less serious, than indictable offences, very few charges are straight summary, many more are hybrid where the crown can elect to proceed by way of summary conviction. Some examples of straight summary offences are trespassing at night or causing a disturbance.
Some hybrid offences which are very commonly proceeded on by way of summary conviction include, theft under $5000, Mischief under $5000, simple assault, etc.
Unless otherwise stated a summary conviction offence will have a maximum term of imprisonment of 6 months. There are some exceptions such as assault causing bodily harm which has maximum of 18 months imprisonment.
There is also a 6-month limitation period for a crime to be tried summarily, unless the crown and defence agree otherwise.
Summary conviction offences also do not have a right to a jury. Any appeal would go to the Superior Court rather than directly to the Court of Appeal.
You must wait 5 years before you can request a record suspension (pardon) for a summary conviction.
Indictable offences are generally more serious criminal code offences, such as murder, treason, etc. Punishments for conviction on an indictable offence can be up to life imprisonment.
Most indictable offences will have a preliminary inquiry hearing, and most give the accused the option of choosing a judge or a jury (there are some exceptions).
There is no limitation period for a crown to charge someone by indictment. An appeal of a conviction for an indictable offence would proceed to the Court of Appeal.
You must wait 10 years before applying for a record suspension (pardon) for a conviction on an indictable offence.
Knowing what type of crime you have been charged with is one of the first pieces of information you will find out when charged with a crime. The potential consequences vary greatly between a summary conviction offence and an indictable offence. The best way to protect yourself in either instance is with the assistance of a criminal defence lawyer.
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