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Fast facts

Criminal law: protecting yourself from a conviction

A criminal prosecution generally begins with a ‘charge’, specifying the crime that you are alleged to have committed. You may be charged at the time you are arrested, and then you will either be remanded in custody or bailed to appear at court on a later date. Alternatively, the charge may be served by summons.

As well as any sentence that may be imposed, you may suffer other consequences as a result of being found guilty of the offence. Some of those consequences may last for life.

What happens in court goes on your criminal record

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how minor the offence was or how long ago it occurred, having a criminal record can sometimes have long lasting consequences. The court, police and some future employees can access your criminal record.
When considering when, or if, you need to engage a lawyer you should consider how a possible charge or conviction could affect you in the future including:

  • Employment prospects
  • Holding public office
  • Joining the Defense Forces
  • Practising as a teacher or lawyer
  • Registration to medical and allied health professions
  • Limitations or restrictions on overseas travel.

You’ve be changed with an offence. What now?

You can be charged by the police if they believe you have broken the law. You will receive a charge sheet or notice to appear detailing what offence you have been charged with.
Once charged, you need to:

  • Get a copy of the charge sheet
  • View the police prosecution file
  • Talk to a lawyer
  • Decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty.

Understanding your charge sheet

A full charge sheet or a notice to appear will provide more detail of your charge.
It is important that you understand the exact details of the case against you before you decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty. A lawyer can assist you in outlining the details of the change and the best options available to you.

Types of offences

  • Simple offences (or summary offences). These include disorderly behaviour, traffic offences and minor criminal offences.
  • Serious crimes (or indictable offences) these include murder, rape, robbery, assault, and break and enter. Misdemeanours also fall under this category.

Going to court

If you are charged with a criminal offence, the first appearance is in the Magistrates’ Court. A lawyer can speak on your behalf when the matter is before the magistrate and will let the Court know your intentions. Many summary cases are actually dealt with by the Magistrates’ Court but others, such as indictable or more serious cases must go to the County Court or Supreme Court for final hearing.

First mention hearing

For all alleged offences, you will either be bailed, remanded (locked up), or summonsed to appear in the Magistrates’ Court for your first hearing, this hearing is referred to as a ‘mention’. If you are pleading ‘guilty’ to the charges, your case can be dealt with at the mention. However, even when pleading guilty the accused may also choose to adjourn the mention for a variety of reasons.

If you are pleading not guilty, the case will be adjourned to a ‘summary case conference’. This allows time for parties to negotiate, witnesses to be called, and cases prepared prior to a full hearing of the case.

If you do not have a lawyer, you can also request an adjournment to allow you to obtain legal representation or legal aid support.

Make legal expertise your best defence

A criminal lawyer may be able to help you avoid potential charges before they are laid. If charges are laid, a lawyer may be able to help you avoid a criminal conviction, lessen the severity of the charges and get you the best result. If you decide to plead guilty, or are found guilty, a lawyer will make submissions to the judge on your behalf.

If you have been charged with a crime and have to go to court, it is important that you get advice about your matter. The LIV can provide referrals to general and specialist criminal lawyers.

Find your lawyer legal referral service

T: 9607 9550

Legal community centre

T: 03 9652 1500

Victoria legal aid

T: 9269 0120 or 1800 677 402

Please note the above information is not intended to, and does not encompass all aspects of the law on this subject matter. Further professional advice should be sought before action is taken based on matters outlined on this page. February 2014.

Glossary of legal terms

  • Arraignment – The formal appearance of an accused person in the court of trial to hear the indictment (charge) against him or her, in the presence of a judge, and to then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
  • Bail – A commitment made (and possibly secured by cash or property) to secure the release of a person being held in custody and suspected of a crime, to provide some kind of guarantee that the suspect will appear to answer the charges at some later date.
  • Committal – A hearing before a Magistrate of the Local Court for the purpose of deciding whether or not the person charged with an offence should be committed for trial or sentence.
  • Indictable offences – serious offences that must be heard before a jury.
  • Magistrates’ Court – hears summary offences, indictable offences triable summarily and committal hearings.
  • County Court – nearly all serious crime is heard here. A jury determines guilt or innocence and the judge determines the law.
  • Supreme Court – hears the most serious indictable offences such as murder.

Find your Lawyer

Please note the above information is not intended to, and does not encompass all aspects of the law on this subject matter. Further professional advice should be sought before action is taken based on matters outlined on this page.

- March 2018

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