What is a Summary Conviction?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 February 2020
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A summary conviction is a judgment reached by a judge or magistrate without the benefit of a jury trial. Though summary convictions once ruled many judicial systems, they are now typically reserved only for extremely minor offenses. In many cases, offenses treated as summary convictions are fully expunged from the record after a certain period of time.

The logic behind summary offenses and convictions is largely to do with judicial efficiency. Jury trials, while necessary in many cases, are often long-lasting, expensive, and exhausting affairs. In addition to the inconvenience of the principle parties, jury trials also can disrupt the working lives of jurors for weeks or months. Since most minor offenses are not contested by the defendant, summary convictions allow the law to be carried out while not unduly disrupting the efficiency of the court system.

Different jurisdictions may have different regulations regarding which types of crimes are considered for summary conviction. In almost all regions, summary convictions are used for non-violent, minor crimes, such as traffic offenses. Many areas define crimes open to summary conviction by the maximum penalties allowed for the infraction; fines of less than $1000 US dollars (USD) and jail sentences of under six months are usually open to this type of trial. Any crime with penalties in excess of legal limits will automatically move to a trial by jury, thus skipping the summary conviction realm of the court.


It is sometimes possible to file an appeal of a summary conviction. This may occur if a person feels that a law was unfairly or incorrectly applied. For instance, a person who feels he or she was incorrectly stopped for speeding can usually request a court date to contest the ticket. A traffic ticket is in itself a form of conviction, and if the person successfully convinces the judge to dismiss the ticket, the conviction is considered overturned. Different types of summary convictions may require the defendant to fill out specific appeal forms; court clerks can be a useful resource in determining what paperwork is necessary.

Despite their efficiency, summary convictions remain somewhat controversial among legal scholars. The pursuit of justice is no less important on a minor level than on a larger scale, and many legal systems actually guarantee citizens a right to a jury trial. Through the use of an appellate system, however, most modern judicial systems do give defendants the option to seek rectification of an unfair judgment; the requirement of such a system, however, puts the burden of proof on the defendant, which is not universally condoned.


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