The Difference Between Summary and Indictable Offences

Types of Offenses

There are three types of offences in the Criminal Code of Canada: summary conviction offences, indictable offences, and offences where the Crown may elect to proceed by indictment or summary conviction (hybrid offences).

Indictable Offences:

Indictable offences are generally considered to be the most serious offences in the Criminal Code and include murder, narcotics trafficking, treason, sexual assault on a minor (sexual interference) and other serious criminal acts. The sentences for indictable offences are generally more severe and may include life imprisonment.

Anyone charged with an indictable offence usually can elect one of the following modes of trial:

  • Trial by Judge-alone in the Superior Court of Justice with or without a Preliminary Inquiry;
  • Trial by Judge and jury in the Superior Court of Justice with or without a Preliminary Inquiry; or,
  • Trial by Judge-alone in a provincial court/Ontario Court of Justice.

There are exceptions for certain indictable offences. For example, a sexual assault where the Crown elects to proceed by indictment cannot have a preliminary inquiry because a preliminary inquiry is only available to accused persons facing 14 years’ or more in the penitentiary. Further, section 553 of the Criminal Code lists several offences where a provincial court has absolute jurisdiction (is the only court to hear a trial). Indictable offences are the most serious charges

in the Criminal Code and have severe consequences. Anyone charged with a criminal offence should speak to a lawyer, but defending an indictable offence without the assistance of counsel is nothing short of reckless. Whatever you do, make sure you speak to a lawyer if you face an indictable offence.

Summary Conviction Offences:

Summary conviction offences tend to be the least severe offences in the Criminal Code of Canada. There are also very few pure summary conviction offences. More specifically, there are few offences in the Criminal Code where the trial can only take place in a provincial court.

There are unique qualities to summary conviction offences that do not apply to indictable offences. Some of these unique characteristics are:

  • A one-year limitation period applies to all summary conviction offences, including if the Crown elects to proceed by summary conviction;
  • The accused is not required to submit their fingerprints to police on arrest, after arrest, or after a potential conviction (does not apply if a hybrid offence); and,
  • On conviction, appeals are heard at the Superior Court in the relevant jurisdiction, as opposed to the provincial appeals court for indictable offences.

The penalties for summary conviction offences are generally less than two years in prison and fines less than $5,000.

Hybrid Offences:

Hybrid offences are criminal charges where the Crown may elect to proceed by indictment or by summary conviction. Most offences in the Criminal Code are hybrid offences and include, but are not limited to:

  • Sexual assault.
  • Assault with a weapon.
  • Assault causing bodily harm.
  • Fraud under $5,000.
  • Theft under $5,000.

When deciding whether to proceed by indictment or summary conviction, the Crown will analyze factors such as the seriousness of the allegations (i.e. sexual assault can be relatively minor touching or full sexual intercourse), the accused’s criminal record (a dense and persistent criminal record could make the Crown proceed by indictment over summary conviction), whether the offence is sworn outside the one-year limitation period for summary conviction offences, the notoriety of the case, and any other relevant factor.

The decision to proceed by indictment or summary conviction is discretionary and non-reviewable unless the defence can establish abuse of process.

If you have questions about summary, indictable, and hybrid offences, connect with us from our contact page.

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