How long after an incident can a criminal charge be brought?

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A ‘limitation period’ is a period of time within which criminal charges can be brought.

It normally runs from the date that the offence allegedly occurred.

In the United States, there is a ‘Statute of Limitations’ which sets down various ‘limitation periods’ for a wide range of criminal offences; both ‘felonies’ and ‘misdemeanours’.

Here, the situation is different.

In NSW, there is no ‘limitation period’ for ‘indictable offences’ which are more-serious criminal offences which can be dealt with in the District Court.

This means that a charge can be brought anytime, even several decades after its alleged commission!

However, this would be unlikely in practice because it may be difficult for the prosecution to prove a criminal offence beyond reasonable doubt so long after its alleged commission.

The exception is ‘serious sex offences’ which are frequently charged many years or even decades after their alleged commission.

For less serious ‘summary offences’, which can only be dealt with in the Local Court, police must generally bring charges within 6 months of the alleged offence.

Section 179 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) reads as follows:

  1. Proceedings for a summary offence must be commenced not later than 6 months from when the offence was alleged to have been committed.
  2. Subsection (1) does not apply:

(a) to an offence for which an Act or law specifies another period within which proceedings must be commenced, or

(b) to an indictable offence that is being dealt with summarily, or

(c) to an offence involving the death of a person that is or has been the subject of a coronial inquest

3. Proceedings for a summary offence that relate to the death of a person that is or has been the subject of a coronial inquest must be commenced:

(a) not later than 6 months after the conclusion of the inquest, or

(b) not later than 2 years from when the offence is alleged to have been committed, whichever occurs first.

Your criminal lawyer should always check whether police have brought a summary charge within the limitation period, as the charge will be ‘invalid’ and thrown out if it was filed outside that period.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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