Summary Conviction vs. Indictable Offence: A Guide For The Accused

August 1, 2021

If you have been charged with a crime in Canada, the offence will be categorized as a summary, indictable, or hybrid offence. While the categories generally refer to the severity of the crime committed, there can be some overlap, making it challenging for those accused to understand the charges. 

In this post, we’ll define a summary and indictable offence and go into detail about the sentencing that comes with each offence and how an experienced lawyer can help reduce your charges. 

What is A Summary Offence?

In general, a summary offence is a less severe crime and carries a less severe sentence or penalty if you are convicted. As many people are more familiar with American terminology, in the case of a summary offence, the equivalent in the U.S. would be a misdemeanour charge.

In Ontario, summary offences are only heard in front of a judge in the Ontario Court of Justice. There is no preliminary trial or option to be tried in front of a jury. Summary offences generally carry a maximum penalty of 6 months but can range as high as 2 years in jail less a day, and the maximum fines are under $5000. This sentence length also means that if you serve jail time, your sentence will be in a provincial jail. 

Some examples of summary offences are trespassing, traffic violations or causing a disturbance. 

What Is An Indictable Offence?

An indictable offence is a more serious crime that comes with more severe penalties, including life imprisonment. Some examples of indictable offences include murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping and arson. Indictable offences would carry the same weight as a felony charge in the United States. 

Because Indictable offences are more serious, there are more options for trial. A provincial court judge can hear the cases in the Ontario Court of Justice, or you can have a preliminary hearing where the Crown must prove there is some evidence to proceed to trial. If you have a preliminary hearing then the trial will take place in the Superior Court of Justice and can happen in front of a judge or a judge and jury. An experienced lawyer can help determine which strategy will work best for your case. 

What is a Hybrid Offence?

In some instances, a person can be charged with an indictable offence or a summary charge depending on the decision of the Crown Attorney. These are called hybrid offences because the severity of the crime depends on what happened in each individual case – the vast majority of criminal offences are hybrid. For example, the term sexual assault covers a broad range of inappropriate behaviour under the Canadian Criminal Code. A charge of rape would be an indictable offence, while an unwanted kiss, depending on the circumstances, might be a summary offence. 

Some other examples of a hybrid offence include impaired driving, assault, and possession of a controlled substance.

The decision to charge someone with a summary or an indictable offence often depends on a person’s previous criminal record or lack of one and the individual facts of the case.  An experienced criminal lawyer will understand the charges and begin to petition the Crown early on in the case to have the charges dropped to a summary conviction to avoid much more severe penalties. 

An experienced lawyer can also talk through your trial options to determine what trial method will give you the best chance of a good result. 

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, it is essential to find an experienced criminal lawyer who understands the charges and can help defend your case to get the best result possible. William Jaksa has over ten years of experience as a criminal law defence attorney in Toronto and can help you get the best outcome for your case. Contact him today for a consultation. 

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