If you have been charged with a criminal offence, you may experience feelings of panic, intimidation and extreme stress. There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to being charged with a crime, and especially if it’s your first time, you may not know what happens next. The best thing you can do is seek a consultation with a criminal lawyer, who can offer you advice on what to do to achieve the best outcome for your situation.
Getting charged with a criminal offence
Being charged with a criminal offence means that you have been formally alleged to have committed a crime. It doesn’t mean you are guilty or that you will be going to prison, although this can sometimes happen immediately depending on the seriousness of the crime you have been charged with.
When you are charged with a criminal offence, this will take one of two formats.
For less serious crimes, you may receive a notice to appear in court, also known as a summons. This is usually for crimes that will be heard in the Magistrates Court. Summons are issued by the police.
When a crime is more serious, the police may arrest you in person. After being arrested, you could be granted bail and allowed to go free, or you could be kept in custody until your trial if a judge believes you are a danger to the community.
Engaging a lawyer to represent you
It is important that you find an experienced and professional lawyer to represent you as quickly as possible after you have been charged with a criminal offence. Working with a knowledgeable lawyer is the only way to ensure that you receive the best outcome from the justice system.
A lawyer will assist you through each step of what can sometimes be a long and complicated process. They will explain the court procedure to you and be able to answer any questions you have. Additionally, they will provide advice on what to do at important moments along the way, such as what plea to make.
Getting a lawyer involved from the outset is also important so that they have ample time to begin preparing your case. By the time you are charged, a police investigation has already taken place and their evidence has been passed onto the prosecution, who have deemed the case against you strong enough to proceed. This means that your criminal lawyer needs to work quickly to garner the facts of the case and develop a defence before you need to be making decisions.
Going to court
When charges are laid against you, you will be required to attend court. The first step in proceedings is making a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you have committed the crime and you plead guilty, you will be sentenced. If you plead not guilty, a date will be set for a committal hearing.
Deciding on a plea
When deciding on whether to plead guilty or not guilty to the crime or crimes you are charged with, it is crucial that you work with an experienced lawyer. Depending on the circumstances, it may be beneficial for you to plead not guilty and defend the charge in court. It could also be in your best interests to plead guilty and try to get a discounted sentence. Only make this decision after careful consultation with a criminal lawyer.
Pleading guilty may seem counter-intuitive, but there are some strong advantages to doing so. When defendants plead guilty, it lessens the load on the criminal justice system and saves prosecutors time and resources. Because of this, the law recognises that guilty pleas are beneficial and gives discounted sentences to people who plead this way. This means that you may serve less time in prison.
While there are advantages to pleading guilty, it is also important that defendants realise that they have a presumption of innocence. This means that the prosecution needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you committed the crime, and failure to do so could result in a not guilty verdict. If there is not a strong case against you, it may be advisable to plead not guilty and take your chances in a criminal trial. Your lawyer will know the details of the prosecution’s case against you and be able to give you advice so you can make an informed decision.
Helping with your defence
The best way to assist your lawyer in mounting your defence is to be as open and honest as possible throughout the entire process. Your lawyer is not there to judge you or make you feel bad about anything you’ve done. It is crucial that they know all the facts of the case so they can help you to the best of their ability.