In criminal law, statute of limitations refers to the maximum amount of time between the time a crime was committed to a charge being laid against the offender of the crime. If a charge is bought after statute of limitation period, the court may not have the power to hear the matter.
Moreover, statute of limitations can apply to criminal offences, civil offences and traffic offences. In Australia, different commonwealth, state and territory legislation govern statute of limitations.
For civil cases, state laws govern statute of limitations. It is important to note that in criminal cases, there are certain exemptions when discussing statute of limitations.
For example, if the offence in questions is an indictable offence, i.e., a very serious offence such as armed robbery, then this statute of limitations is not applicable. Commonwealth offences such as murder do not have a statute of limitations.
In Australia, the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) sets out the statute of limitations. Specifically, Section 15B of the Crimes Act lays out points in relation to statute of limitations in Australia.
As mentioned above, statute of limitations may differ depending on whether the offence was a summary offence or an indictable offence. In this article, we’ll explore these points in detail.
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Statute of Limitations: Summary Offences
A summary offence is a less serious offence that involves a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment or less. Moreover, where defendants are corporations, summary offences would involve these defendants receiving a maximum charge of 150 penalty units
Examples of these offences include driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, careless driving and other traffic offences, minor criminal damage to property, or disorderly behaviour etc.
In New South Wales (NSW), the statute of limitations is 6 months for summary offences. This means that if a charge is brought against you for a summary offence that you committed 6 months ago, you cannot be found guilty.
On the other hand, in the state of Victoria (VIC), the statute of limitations for summary offences is 12 months. This is similar to the statute of limitations that is applicable in the state of Queensland (QLD).
Indictable Offences and Exceptions of Statute of Limitations
As previously mentioned, in NSW, indictable offences that are very serious offences, do not have a statute of limitations.
This means that regardless of the amount of time that has lapsed since someone has committed an indictable offence, if a charge is brought against them, they can be found guilty of the offence.
These offences attract severe penalties including life imprisonment, or many years of imprisonment.
John Bui is the Principal Solicitor of JB Solicitors – a law firm based in Sydney, Australia. John is a Nationally Accredited family law Mediator and Arbitrator with over 10 years’ experience in family law and commercial litigation.