Criminal Offence Definition

criminal offence gavel

Have you ever wondering about the technical definition of a criminal offence? Some crimes clearly constitute illegal activity, while others can be hard to tell if they are classed as a criminal offence or not.

Definition of Criminal Offence

A criminal offence is defined as an offence against the state. It is more broadly understood as a crime or breaking the law. Criminal offences can range from more serious crimes such as theft, violent behaviour and arson, to more low-level behaviour such as underage drinking, graffiti and offences relating to pets.

Summary Offences

Summary offences are less serious criminal offences. They are heard in the Magistrates’ Court and are normally prosecuted by the state’s police force. Proceedings against adults for summary offences must start within one year from the date that the offence happened

Indictable Offences

Indictable offences are more serious crimes which are usually heard in the County or Supreme courts before a judge and jury. Normally these are prosecuted by the Office of Public Prosecutions. There is no time limit for proceedings to begin for indictable offences.

Infringement Notices

Infringements are different to criminal offences. These are minor offences and you can pay a fine instead of going to court. There is also the option of having your matter heard in court by a magistrate, but this can result in a higher penalty.

Examples of Criminal Offences

Violent Behaviour

Violent behaviour is a criminal offence that is taken very seriously and can result in penalties such as imprisonment, diversion programs and fines. It is any behaviour that causes an injury to another person or that places them in fear of being injured. This means that threatening to harm someone and being physically intimidating is counted as a violent offence. When charged with violence-related offences, your penalty depends on the injuries suffered by the victim, your intentions, and what you should have known would happen as a result of your actions.

Carrying Weapons

In Australia, there are laws against carrying, possessing or using a weapon. Weapons offences can be very serious, depending on the type of weapon.

  • Guns: Anyone who owns a gun must have license for it and register the weapon
  • Knives: You can’t carry knives, including kitchen knives, without a lawful excuse
  • Other dangerous items: You can’t carry things that could be used as a weapon, such as an axe or hammer.

It is not legal to carry a weapon of any kind for the purposes of self-defence

Arson and Lighting Fires

Lighting fires can cause serious damage to property and loss of life. The penalties for lighting fires in Australia, even if not with intent to cause damage, are very high. Arson is intentional lighting of fires and can carry a penalty of up to twenty-five years in gaol. Lighting fires in a public place can also result in gaol time, especially if a fire gets out of control and results in property damage.


Theft is defined as intentionally taking something from someone else that does not belong to you, and that you do not intend to give back. It includes a range of offences including armed robbery using weapons, burglary, shoplifting, handling stolen goods and obtaining by deception. If you are charged with theft, the prosecution will need to prove that you did not own the property and were not planning to return it. Penalties depend on the method of stealing and the value of the stolen goods.

Property Damage

It is a crime to purposely damage or destroy another person’s property. Property can include buildings, belongings, and even living things like pets. Property damage offences are also called criminal damage offences and can range from arson to graffiti. Penalties depend on the seriousness of the criminal offence and the extent of the damage.

  • cannabis (marijuana)
  • heroin
  • amphetamines (speed)
  • cocaine
  • LSD
  • MDMA (ecstasy)

Possessing illegal drugs is taken less seriously but is still a crime. You may only get a caution if you are caught with a small quantity of a drug such as cannabis, for example.

Unlawful Public Behaviour

There is certain behaviour that is against the law in public. These laws are focused on keeping the peace and keeping order in public places. Public places are classed as any public areas such as streets, parks, train stations, sports grounds and more. Some examples of unlawful public behaviour include being drunk in a public place, disorderly conduct, spitting at someone, exposing your genitals, using obscene language and littering. Police can issue on-the-spot fines for many of these offences, while others may result in offenders being called to appear at court.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offence, our expert team is here to help.

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