Indictable Offences in South Australia
How courts deal with criminal offences depends on whether they are summary offences or indictable offences. While summary offences are minor offences that are dealt with by magistrates, indictable offences are more serious offences such as assault, robbery and murder and manslaughter. This article deals with indictable offences in South Australia.
Major and minor indictable offences in South Australia
Minor indictable offences are offences that are punishable by no more than five years imprisonment, offences that involve property valued at no more than $30,000, and the offences of recklessly causing harm or indecent assault. Minor indictable offences include assault, affray and stalking.
All other indictable offences are major indictable offences.
Minor indictable offences may be finalised in a lower court if the defence consents to this. If the defence does not consent to the summary jurisdiction, the matter must be committed to the District Court or Supreme Court.
Major indictable offences are finalised in the District Court or Supreme Court. These matters must go through a number of procedural steps in a lower court, before being committed to a higher court to be finalised as a plea or after a trial. However, if a person is pleading guilty to a major indictable offence other than murder, treason, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit murder or treason, they can be sentenced in the Magistrates Court if both parties consent to this.
When a person is charged with an indictable offence and the offence is not going to be dealt with summarily, the matter must go through a committal proceeding. The purpose of this proceeding is to have the matter committed to a higher court. There are two ways this can occur.
If the accused indicates they are pleading guilty, the court may commit the matter to a higher court for sentence on this basis. Alternately, it may proceed to impose a sentence if the parties have agreed to the sentence being delivered in the lower court. This is known as an answer charge hearing.
If the accused does not indicate a plea of guilty, the court must hear evidence to determine whether the prosecution case is sufficiently strong that it could support a guilty verdict in a higher court. If, after hearing evidence and submissions from both parties, the court is satisfied that the case has enough merit, it will commit it to a higher court. If the case is not sufficiently strong, it will dismiss the charges.
District Court or Supreme Court?
A matter will be committed to the Supreme Court if the charge is murder or treason or if it is a major indictable offence in circumstances of unusual gravity or where unusually difficult questions of law or fact are involved.
In any other case, the matter will be committed to the District Court.
Juries in indictable matters
If a person is facing trial in a higher court, the matter will be determined by a jury. Juries are made up of twelve randomly selected citizens, who are remunerated for their time and efforts.
When a jury is being empanelled, both defence and prosecution have the opportunity to challenge up to three jurors peremptorily (without giving a reason) and any number of jurors on the basis that they are ineligible or disqualified from acting as a juror.
Juries make findings of fact based on the evidence before the court and directions given to them by the judge. Juries do not make findings of law.
If the jury returns a verdict of guilty, the judge will proceed to determine the appropriate sentence.
Penalties for indictable offences in South Australia
When a person is sentenced for an indictable offence, they will often be facing a lengthy term of imprisonment, which may be wholly or partly suspended, and which may include a non-parole period.
When the court sentences a person to more than 12 months imprisonment, it may set a non-parole period. Once the person has served their non-parole period, they can be considered for conditional release from prison to serve the rest of their sentence in the community.
Some offences in South Australia carry mandatory minimum sentences or mandatory minimum non-parole periods. For example, a person sentenced for murder must serve 20 years in prison before they can be considered for parole.
If a person is a serious repeat offender within the meaning of section 54 of the Sentencing Act 2017, the non-parole period they receive must be at least four-fifths the length of the sentence.
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