Indictable versus summary offences: What you need to know
The average person only interacts with the law only a few times in his or her life. Buying a house, getting married/divorced and planning your estate are the most common occurrences. When it comes to matters of a criminal nature, it’s not surprising that many people are unsure, scared or embarrassed by what comes next.
Whether you have been charged with impaired driving, fraud or a fatality, there are a couple of terms and processes that you should know so you have a better understanding of what you need to discuss with a criminal defence lawyer.
At outlined on the Government of Alberta website, criminal charges are dealt with in three ways:
- Summary convictions:
- less serious offences
- carry less severe penalties
- Indictable offences:
- serious offences
- serious penalties
- Hybrid offences:
- prosecution can choose to try the case as either of the above
Essentially, how the offence will be handled determines how the case will be heard and the penalties. Indictable offences carry the option of having a trial in front a judge alone, or with a jury and more serious penalties.
When you are charged with a criminal offence, you will either be taken directly to a police station for processing (fingerprinting, etc.) or you will be given a date at which to do so. You may also be held by officers, or free to go depending on the severity of the crime. In either case, you will be given a date to appear before a judge under what is called a “first appearance”. This is to determine the next steps regarding the future of your case.
For a summary conviction, you may be asked how you plead, and then next steps will be provided on how to proceed. For indictable offences, you may be asked what type of court you would like to have your case heard.
In both scenarios, it’s important to speak to a criminal defence lawyer before your “first appearance” to help you make decisions that make sense for your situation.