Criminal offences

Criminal offences

A criminal offence is an offence (or crime) against the state. It is often called ‘breaking the law’.

If you are accused of a criminal offence, the charge sheet or notice to appear will say what offence you have been charged with.

This topic has information about:

Which court?

Criminal offences may be summary or indictable. Summary offences are less serious and are heard in the Magistrates’ Court. Indictable offences are heard before a judge and jury in the County or Supreme courts. Some indictable offences can be heard in the Magistrates’ court if both parties agree to this.

When a person is charged with a criminal offence in Victoria they are either prosecuted by Victoria Police (mostly for summary offences) or by the Office of Public Prosecutions for more serious offences.

When the court decides if you are guilty of a crime or not, the prosecution must prove that you are guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. This is called the ‘burden of proof’.

In most cases proceedings against adults for summary offences must be commenced within one year from the date that the offence happened. There is no time limit for indictable offences.

See Going to court for a criminal charge.

Is an infringement notice a criminal offence?

The infringement system is sometimes called ‘quasi’ criminal. This system allows some minor offences to be dealt with by paying the infringement (fine) instead of having to appear in court.

If you get a fine you can choose to pay the fixed penalty listed on the infringement notice. By doing this you avoid having to go to court. Alternatively you can elect to have your matter dealt with by a magistrate in court instead. You might get a heavier penalty but you also get to explain the circumstances of your offence. See Fines and infringements.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with criminal offences.