Home » What Is The Statute Of Limitations On Criminal Offences In Canada?

Detailed knowledge of Canadian Statutes of Limitations on criminal offences is essential for a firm specializing in criminal law defence litigation. Such knowledge is necessary as the expiration of an applicable statute of limitations will bar the prosecution from prosecuting a particular offence. At the Edmonton law firm of Chadi & Company, we have a deep understanding of criminal law and the statutes of limitations for prosecuting various crimes.

Statute Of Limitations Canada

What are the Statutes of Limitations?

Statutes of limitations are laws mandating that particular claims must be brought against defendants in a timely manner. In the civil law context, a plaintiff must bring a claim against a defendant within a certain period of time. If the plaintiff fails to do so, its claim is extinguished. Statutes of limitations apply similarly in the criminal law context. If a particular criminal claim is governed by a statute of limitations, the criminal charge must be brought against a defendant within that time frame. If it is not brought in a timely manner, the prosecution will lose its right to bring the criminal charge.

However, in criminal law, not all offences are governed by applicable statutes of limitations. Certain criminal offences, in particular those of a more serious nature, are not governed by them. This gives the prosecution additional flexibility as no timeframe exists for filing charges. In certain instances, criminal charges can be filed a long time after an alleged criminal offence.

Canadian prosecutors have the discretion of prosecuting offences via two methods: either by indictment or by summary conviction.

Indictable Offences

Indictable criminal offences in Canada are nearly always serious. For that reason, they are generally brought and prosecuted through a criminal indictment.

Examples of serious indictable offences include murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, arson, treason, drug trafficking, and the embezzlement or theft of public funds. No statutes of limitations apply to such offences, allowing the prosecution maximum time to build their case against a defendant.

In Canada, indictable offences are tried either by a judge working alone or by a judge and a jury.

Summary Conviction Offences

Summary conviction offences are of a less serious nature than indictable offences. Pursuant to Section 786(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada, a summary offence conviction must be brought within twelve months of the date of the alleged criminal act. If it is not brought within such a timeframe, the prosecution forever loses its right to bring charges against the defendant for the alleged violation.

Examples of summary conviction offences include displays of public nudity, the causing of a public disturbance, or the possession of a weapon while attending a public meeting. Because such violations of the law are less serious than indictable offences, they carry considerably lighter sentences and penalties. Under Canadian law, the maximum fine for a summary conviction offence is a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for less than two years. However, Canadian law also provides for lighter penalty options such as probation or the imposition of a conditional sentence.

In Canada, summary conviction offences are tried by a judge. There is no right to a jury trial.

Hybrid Offences

As its name suggests, hybrid offences combine elements of both an indictable offence and a summary conviction prosecution. They are an important tool for the prosecution, giving them the flexibility to proceed either by summary conviction or by indictment, whichever way they believe will benefit them. They allow the prosecution to proceed without the constraints of the twelve-month statute of limitations that must be observed in a summary conviction prosecution.

For a more serious offence, one that caused physical damage and/or bodily damage, more often than not, the prosecution might choose to proceed as an indictable offence, where they could seek a stronger sentence. For a less serious violation, they would probably choose to proceed via summary conviction, where the case would be resolved more quickly, and the defendant would face a lighter punishment.

Hybrid offences are the most common offences in Canada and include such matters as simple assault, possession of small amounts of drugs, and driving while impaired.

How Chadi & Company Can Keep Fighting For You

The existence of an applicable statute of limitations is an important element in defence of a criminal claim. A skilled defence lawyer must have knowledge of the criminal offences that are governed by a statute of limitations and those that are not. At the Edmonton criminal defence firm of Chadi & Company, serving Edmonton and the entire province of Alberta, we possess such knowledge. In our thirty years of practice, we have defended cases spanning virtually all areas of criminal law. Contact us today online or on the telephone at (780) 429-2300 for a free consultation.

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