Criminal Law 101: What you need to know

Regularly we see new clients who have an appointment with the local Magistrate.  The offences vary but more often than not, it’s a safe bet to assume:

1. The alleged offending happened at least two weeks ago and the date with the Magistrate is only a week or so away;

2. The client understands that they have probably done something wrong;

3. They’re understandably worried about the punishment they may get; and

4. The client has given the Police a head start by answering all of their questions in relation to the alledged offence.

So, let’s break this down – what do you really need to know about simple criminal offences and how can we help?

As the saying goes, bad news doesn’t get better with time.  This is certainly true for criminal offences.

The longer you wait to seek legal advice, the more difficult it can be to obtain bits and pieces of information that can explain why you did what you did or perhaps, more importantly, can assist in reducing the punishment that you may receive.  When we see new clients, the first thing we do is arrange for the Police to send us a copy of the facts and any evidence they intend to rely on.  The second thing we do is give you a character reference template so you can gather some references that say you’re actually a pretty good person – well, most of the time anyway!

Once we get our hands on the facts and evidence the Police will rely on, we check it for any obvious issues and then get your opinion about what the Police have said in relation to the alleged offending.  If it is possible, we’ll write to the Police and put forward an argument to have the matter withdrawn, often successfully.  In fact, about one third of the matters we deal with are withdrawn at the first court mention.

If we cannot get your matter withdrawn, it’s inevitable that you will have to appear in court.  For many clients, this fear of the unknown is one of their biggest concerns.  We do this every day and we’re here to put your mind at ease.  We can give you a very good idea of the punishment you may get because we have been there before, many times, and we take the time to understand you and your circumstances.

The more we understand you, the more we know your “story” and the more effective we can be in presenting that story to the court.  By taking this approach we can suggest punishment options and give the Magistrate an idea about what would stop you doing the same thing again.  After all, that’s what the criminal justice system is all about.

Finally, a word about cooperating with the Police.  You have rights and you should know them.  The Police have to prove you did the alleged offending beyond reasonable doubt.  That’s a pretty high standard and there’s no point helping them along the way!  If you’re questioned by the Police, the only information you have to provide is:

  • Your name and address;
  • Date and place of birth (in relation to drug matters);
  • Details regarding broken traffic laws or details about an accident; and
  • Other information that you can be asked about under special laws.

No matter what, never confess to anything and avoid giving the police an interview or statement until you have obtained proper legal advice. The police will try to get you to do so, but you should resist.

The other fundamentals

Aside from the questioning, we’ve got a few more tips for you.  Did you know:

  • If you have been arrested, you must accompany the Police
  • You must provide a blood or breath test in relation to drink or drug driving offences
  • Otherwise, you are not required to accompany the Police
  • Even if you do accompany the Police, you have the right to remain silent
  • Police can only legally detain you for 8 hours
  • You can only be legally questioned for 4 hours in the 8 hour period
  • Police cannot get a confession from you by making threats or promises of any kind
  • An interpreter must be provided if required
  • Police cannot question a person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol