The law, as a general system is slightly complex and entails a rather difficult process understanding. Thereby most first time offenders are usually confused as to if their criminal offense is summary or indictable.
First, to understand the category in which your offense fall into, one must get a clear definition of these terms. The offense in question might be a summary offense and not an indictable one. There is a difference, though the prosecuting attorney can complicate matters if he intends to.
Looking at summary offence definition, it is a crime, which can be proceeded against “summarily” without the presence or right to a jury or indictment. Therefore, this offense is usually heard by a magistrate sitting, alone in place of judge or jury.
An Indictable Offence, on the other hand, is one in which trial is carried out on an indictment just after a preliminary hearing for the determination if there would be a jury trial or not. For simplification, indictable offenses are usually committed before a trial and an indictment.
To differentiate between these two is sometimes tricky, but there is an explicit differentiation between these two criminal offenses. The differentiation is simply a way for the courts to be able to put offenses in a box, either as less serious, known as summary or more serious, known as indictable.
Although both can be heard by Magistrates’ Court and the absence of the defendant, it is very crucial to know that a criminal charge which is labeled as a “Summary” can only be heard by a magistrate sitting alone. No jury or judge is present during a Summary criminal charge.
The indictable offense in contrast to the Summary can be heard in Magistrate’s court for committal hearing thereafter there would be a trial, which could be before a higher court and/or a jury.
In Canada, the accused is not liable to submit fingerprints when charged under a summary charge or conviction, which is quite different from an Indictable offense where it is a forced necessity for the submission of fingerprints. In general, Criminal summary offenses are usually taken at levity, that is, are less serious and carry a lesser sentence in comparison to an indictable criminal offense.
A few examples of Summary offenses include road traffic offenses, minor assaults, property damage and so on. Indictable Criminal charges are on aggravated burglary, indecent assault, manslaughter, murder and others of the sorts.
What is called summary offense in Canada is perceived as misdemeanor when seen from the American point of view, while an indictable offense in Canada will pass for a felony in America. If someone was arrested in Canada for Driving Under the Influence (DUI), though a serious crime, it is still rarely considered as an indictable offense. It can only be categorized as an indictable offense if someone was hurt in the process.
It is important to understand the difference between these two criminal charges as an aid to guiding your understanding on the law system.