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Communtity Law Manual | Criminal Courts | The four offence categories for different levels of seriousness

Overview of how the criminal courts work

The four offence categories for different levels of seriousness

Category 1 offences: Fines or community-based sentences only

These are offences where you can only be fined, or sentenced to a community-based sentence like community work or supervision, rather than jail. You’re case will be seen at the District Court, and usually by a Justice of the Peace or a Community Magistrate rather than a judge.

An example of a category 1 offence is careless driving (that doesn’t cause injury or death).

Category 2 offences: Less than two years’ jail

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 6, 72

These are offences with a maximum penalty of less than two years in jail. If you plead not guilty, your trial will be in front of a judge sitting without a jury. Usually this will be in the District Court.

There are offences in Category 2 where a company or other corporate body (not a person) can be punished by a fine but where the punishment for a person committing that same offence would be up to two years jail.

Category 2 offences could include common assault or a first or second drink driving conviction.

Category 3 offences: Two or more years’ jail

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 6, 73

These are offences with a maximum penalty of a jail term of two years or more (but excluding Category 4 offences). Usually these are heard by the District Court. You have the option of either being tried by a judge alone or having a jury trial.

Category 3 offences could include aggravated assault, threatening to kill, dangerous driving or a third (or more) drink driving conviction.

Usually if you’re charged with a Category 3 offence you have to choose whether or not to have a jury trial at the time that you plead not guilty, which will usually be within three weeks after being charged. So it’s very important that you get good legal advice very early on.

Category 4 offences: Very serious crimes

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 6, 74

These are the most serious offences, including murder, manslaughter, torture and terrorism offences. They’re dealt with in the High Court. Usually there’ll be a jury trial, but a judge-alone trial can be ordered in some cases.

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