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There are two types of offences to charge an accused person in Victoria. They are Summary and Indictable offences. The Magistrate Courts sitting in Victoria can only handle Summary offences or other indictable offences treated summarily.
Under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), Indictable offences are more complex and severe, and they must proceed to Higher courts. In Victoria, the higher Court may be a District or Supreme Court.
Indictable offences in the state of Victoria are a serious criminal offence and will show up on an individual's Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check in Victoria.
Indictable offences carry penalty terms which are more severe than a Summary offence. Usually, suppose the penalties for such violation is over two years (or level 7) imprisonment or a fine of 240 penalty units or both. However, some other intention or special laws may determine how the Court handles the charge.
The complex nature of indictable offences makes the District Courts the preferred courts to hear them. However, before the matter proceeds to a District or any other higher court, it must first move through a Committal hearing in a Magistrate Court.
Committal hearings are preliminary hearings among all parties, heard before a Magistrate.
If a person is charged with a severe indictable offence that only County or Supreme Court can handle, it must first proceed through a committal hearing.
The Committal hearing is a meeting where the Magistrate assesses the Prosecution's case against the accused. However, the Magistrate cannot pronounce any party guilty or not guilty in a committal hearing.
At a committal hearing, the Magistrate helps decide if the matter has such evidence and "weight” to proceed to the County or District Court.
At the end of a committal trial, the Magistrate can execute any two actions based on what they find;
If the Magistrate cannot find sufficient evidence to support the charge against the accused, they will dismiss the case at the Committal hearing. If the Magistrate dismisses a case at the committal hearing, the prosecutor cannot continue such a case at a higher court.
However, if the Magistrate finds and is convinced of the overwhelming evidence against the accused, it will commit the matter to a higher court. The Judge or Jury at the higher Court can make a sentencing, conviction or other actions on the case.
The recommendations of a Magistrate during the committal hearing can be solid advice to the Judge or Jury while hearing the matter.
Ruling on an indictable offence is a tricky matter. It comes with a lot of complexities; various evidence, witnesses, investigations, and the rest. The committal hearing helps to set the tempo for that and prevent wrong verdicts at the higher Court.
Here are some of the reasons why a Committal hearing is compulsory for an indictable offence in Victoria:
Without committal hearings, almost anyone can get thrown into an indictable offence's exhaustive and expensive procedures. Even cases with little or funny evidence will have to proceed directly to the County or Supreme Court.
It is costly and time-wasting to the Court, state and all parties involved.
Proceeding through a committal hearing is a great way to "speed up" an indictable case. The Judge/Jury does not have to begin their findings from scratch; they can always reference the recommendations made by the Magistrate Court.
The defence can use the recommendations or proceedings from a Magistrate to examine the depth of the case. It prepares the accused/defence team on how best to prepare their case before a higher court.
Some indictable offences have exceptional circumstances or "dual legislation" that may allow a Magistrate to hear such crime.
If the Magistrate hears an indictable offence, they will treat the case as a summary offence. All issues, matters and verdicts that the Magistrate issues regarding the case will assume the same as a summary offence.
When the Magistrate court treats an indictable offence, it cannot issue penalties higher than two years imprisonment.
Following the similar process (as summary offences), the Magistrate will issue a first date where all parties (prosecutor/accuser and defendant) must present their cases. This date is also known as the “Mentioned Date”, and the defendant can choose to plead guilty or not after hearing the charge read in Court.
At the Magistrate
If the Magistrate is not satisfied with certain aspects of the matter, they will adjourn the case. Some of such instances include where;
If the defendant is on bail during this period, they must attend this court hearing.
Furthermore, the Magistrate can give sentencing the same day if the defendant pleads guilty to the charge. However, the Magistrate will conclude the hearing and proceed to a Contest Mention if the defendant argues not guilty to the case.
At the final hearing (contest mention), the Magistrate will issue sentencing regarding the innocence or guilt of the defender.
Not all indictable offences can be heard in a Magistrate court as a summary offence. Hearing an offence (deemed indictable) summarily in a Magistrate Court only occurs in specific cases.
Indictable Offences with more severe punishments (high imprisonment term) can only be handled before a higher court. These offences are considered too grievous, and a Magistrate sentencing will be inadequate for such a case. Some examples include;
They may also be referred to as "Strictly indictable offences."
Victoria's Summary Offence Act 1966 also allows an offence to be heard summarily if all aggrieved parties consent to it. These include situations where the defendant thinks they will get a better judgement.
The Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) governs and outlines the offences that are handled as indictable offences in Victoria.
Section 2B of the Act considers all offences listed there as indictable offences, except where the Court has a contrary intention.
Some strictly indictable offences are;
The indictable crime of Murder
Part I of Section 3 of the Crimes Act regards all Murder (Homicide) cases as an indictable offence. Anyone guilty of a murder offence is liable to a level 1 imprisonment term (life imprisonment).
However, the standard penalties for an offender of such offence are;
If the accused committed the offence further from an act of violence (unintentional Murder), the legislation prescribes a minimum penalty higher than ten years imprisonment. Also, where the prosecutor can prove peculiar elements of violence, the accused will get a conviction for an original murder offence.
Under Section 3B, provocation can no longer be a defence for a murder charge in Victoria.
Section 4 of the Act prescribes a maximum penalty of a level 2 imprisonment (25 years) for a manslaughter conviction. For this offence, it is irrelevant which strike, or series of the strike offended.
Other types of violations under the manslaughter offences include;
Child Homicide - Section 5A of the Crimes Act 1958
Any person found guilty of killing a child (persons under 6) in circumstances that constitute a manslaughter charge will receive penalties up to 25 years imprisonment.
Homicide by Firearm - Section 5B of the Crimes Act 1958
A person guilty of discharging a firearm in the Act of manslaughter is guilty of homicide by gun. Such offences incur a penalty of about 25 years imprisonment. However, the standard sentencing for such a crime is 13 years imprisonment.
Suicide offences - Section 6A of the Crimes Act 1958
The law that prosecutes suicide in Victoria is no longer active in Victoria. However, a person who commits suicide for another person as part of a pact is liable to a ten-year imprisonment term. It also includes cases where;
Offences of Treason in Victoria
A person who commits any such treasonable or injurious actions to the;
Is guilty of an indictable offence. It also includes such cases where the person incites, assists or induces such actions.
The Crimes Act prescribes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment (Level 1 imprisonment). However, the Court can also impose penalties it deems relevant to the charge or per the court discretion.
The Court can also impose penalties up to a level 3 imprisonment (20 years maximum) in cases where;
Section 15A of the Crimes Act prohibits all acts that are harmful to one another due to gross violence. All actions relating to violence, especially those inflicting severe harm.
The Court can impose penalties up to a level 3 imprisonment (20 years maximum).
It is a severe offence (under section 15B of the Act) to commit any reckless act of gross violence without any lawful excuse. It also includes any act that constitutes such an offence.
The Court can impose penalties up to a level 4 imprisonment (15 years maximum).
Threatening to kill a person can be handled as an indictable offence under the Crimes Act. It is prohibited under section 20 of the Act, and the Court imposes a penalty of level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum term).
Any person guilty of endangering the life of another without lawful excuse can be guilty of an indictable offence. It also includes any such actions that may cause injury to another person.
Under the Act, such a person may be liable to a level 5 (10 years maximum) for actions that put a person in danger of death.
The Court can also impose penalties up to a level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum) for actions that put a person in danger of serious injury.
It also includes all dangerous actions of negligence, setting traps, Extortion with threats to kill, using a firearm to resist an arrest.
Assault charges in Victoria can be handled as indictable offences depending on the circumstances around the crime and the impact such violation had. It also includes all cases where the person commits such an offence intending to commit another indictable offence.
The Act prescribes penalties up to a level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum).
Most sexual offences under the Act are handled as indictable offences. It includes all sexual violations like;
Such offences are usually treated as indictable offences. The Court can impose penalties between 5 years and 25 years imprisonment to life imprisonment.
Offences of Rape usually incur the highest penalties under the Crimes Act.
Offences of these kinds or any kind involving;
Deception or dishonest claiming,
Will most likely be treated as indictable offences. Punishments for these offences may be as severe as 25 years imprisonment term.
Indictable offences are serious criminal offences in the state of Victoria. The offence is disclosed on a police check.
In the majority of circumstances, an indictable offence will not be eligible to get expunged from a person's criminal record as per the spent convictions scheme in Victoria.
Individuals can obtain their nationally coordinated criminal history check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.
Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) - https://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/in-force/acts/crimes-act-1958/292
Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) (Austlii) - http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/ca195882/
Summary Offence Act 1966 (Vic) - https://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/in-force/acts/summary-offences-act-1966/131
Victims of Crime Victoria - https://www.victimsofcrime.vic.gov.au/charges-laid/summary-and-indictable-offences
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