How Long Do the Police Have to Charge You With a Crime?

July 15, 2020

A statute of limitations specifies the maximum amount of time legal proceedings can commence after an event. There are three categories of offences in Canada: summary conviction offences, indictable offences, and hybrid offences. Indictable offences are more serious offences than summary conviction offences and they have no limitation period. Therefore, you can be charged with an indictable offence, such as murder, at any time. If you are found guilty of an indicatable offence, it can result in more serious consequences than if you are found guilty of a summary conviction offence. 


Summary conviction offences have a limitation period under section 786 (2) of the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code codifies many of Canada’s criminal offences and procedures. Under section 786 (2), summary proceedings cannot be initiated without the consent of an accused person more than 12 months after the time the subject matter of the proceedings arose. If the accused person does not consent, the Crown prosecutor can elect to proceed by indictment.


Hybrid offences are those giving the Crown the discretion to proceed summarily or by indictment. They are the most common offences in Canada. The Crown considers various factors when deciding which way to proceed. Those factors may include whether the accused has a criminal record and the seriousness of the allegation. If the Crown decides to proceed summarily, the aforementioned limitation period applies. The police also consider various factors when deciding to lay a charge, including the evidence against the accused and witness statements.  


Once the police lay a charge, they provide the Crown with the information and evidence they gathered during their investigation. The Crown then decides whether to proceed with the charges against the accused. Another possibility is the Crown will decide some of the charges should be dropped whereas others should be pursued. If the Crown thinks there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction and it is in the public interest to proceed, they will prosecute. When determining if a reasonable likelihood of conviction exists, the Crown analyzes evidence and other matters to decide whether the case will hold up in court. When it comes to deciding if it is in the public interest, prosecutors must consider a variety of factors, some of which are the seriousness of the alleged offence and the nature of the harm caused by it.


Thus, police can take as long as they want to charge you with a crime if it is an indictable offence. That is because indictable offences, unlike summary conviction offences, have no limitation period in Canada. A Crown prosecutor decides if the Crown will pursue those charges. Hybrid offences are the most common offences in Canada; they give the Crown the discretion to proceed summarily or by indictment. If the Crown elects to proceed summarily, and more than 12 months have passed, they will need the accused’s consent to do so.


If you have been charged with an offence, call Jason Malloy for a free consultation to get more information and discuss your options.

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Jason Malloy is an associate lawyer at the Theodore L. Mariash Law Office in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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