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Categories of Offences and the Courts


When you have been charged with a criminal offence in South Australia, the seriousness of the offence will determine which category of offence it is and which court you will appear in. The higher the class of offence, the higher the maximum penalties and the more serious the consequences if you are convicted.

Historically offences were classified as “misdemeanours” and “felonies”, but these terms have now been abolished.

In South Australia, the Criminal Procedure Act 1921 (SA) classifies criminal offences into 3 categories:

  • Summary;
  • Minor Indictable; and
  • Major Indictable.


Summary Offences are categorised as all offences that do not carry a term of imprisonment or carry a maximum term of imprisonment of 2 years or less. Summary offences are always dealt with in the Magistrates Court.

Examples of summary offences are drink driving, minor thefts and basic assaults. These offences are at the lower end of seriousness, but can result in imprisonment in some cases if a defendant is found guilty.

Minor Indictable

Minor Indictable Offences are a step up in seriousness from Summary Offences, but are still usually heard in the Magistrates Court. These are usually offences which have a maximum penalty of between 2- and 5-years imprisonment.

Examples of Minor Indictable charges include Aggravated Assaults and non-Aggravated Criminal Trespasses. These offences are serious and defendants frequently receive terms of imprisonment if found guilty, but not so serious as to be heard in a superior court.

A defendant can elect to be tried before a jury in the District Court on a Minor Indictable charge, but usually will not.  Whether it is appropriate to make this election is determined on a case by case basis.

Major Indicatable

Major Indictable charges are the most serious category of offence in South Australia. These offences are usually offences having maximum penalties exceeding 5 years imprisonment.

All trials for Major Indictable Offences are heard in the District or Supreme Court. All District and Supreme Court trials are conducted with a jury, unless a defendant elects for a trial by judge alone, or in rare circumstances the Prosecution applies for and is granted a trial by judge alone.

For some Major Indicatable offences, where there has been a guilty plea, submissions and sentence will proceed in the Magistrates Court if both parties agree to this occurring.

Major Indictable charges include murder, most sexual offences, drug trafficking and serious offences of violence. A defendant who is found guilty of a Major Indictable charge is liable to imprisoned, often for many years.

These proceedings can often take several years from arrest to completion and involve complex issues of fact and law.

As a leading Adelaide criminal law firm, we at Mangan Ey specialise in all these types of cases and across all South Australian courts. It is important that any accused person seeks legal advice before going to court.

Posted by Alex Rice

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