Appearing in Court to answer a criminal charge will be a difficult and stressful time. Not only will your future be on the line you will be dealing with a process that is complicated and confusing. Indeed, Court processes are alien to most people and legal language and etiquette will be unfamiliar. Of course, managing and arguing a legal case is difficult if not impossible for most people to do successfully. The reality is that in order to navigate yourself through this difficult time and emerge with the most just and fair result you will need the services of a qualified criminal law lawyer.
This article will take you through some of the processes that you will face in Court, both in the committal hearing and, generally, in the trial itself. This article is merely an introduction to many of the complicated issues that will emerge during a trial, so it is important to consult your criminal law specialist for more information.
Meeting with your Lawyer
After having been arrested and having retained the services of a criminal law specialist you will need to work with your legal representative on setting out your case. While the details of the circumstances of your arrest may be hard to remember the more information you are able to give your Lawyer, the better they will be able to build your case. Your Lawyer will also build your case by gaining witnesses, and character statements.
Your Lawyer will also be able to advise you on your prospects of success of gaining bail at the committal hearing and for a successful 'not guilty' plea at the trial (if you choose to plead this way).
The committal hearing
The committal hearing will be before a Magistrate in the Local Court and traditionally operated to filter out cases that had little or no merit. While the committal hearing is not the trial it is still an extremely important step in the process. At the committal hearing you cannot be judged guilty or not guilty but the Magistrate hearing your case will judge on the following matters:
- whether the charged person should be given bail or sent into custody to await trial; and
- whether there is a enough evidence for the charge to be proven at trial.
Generally, the power of the Magistrate to determine whether the charge shall proceed to trial is limited by the powers of the Department of public prosecutions who can choose to commence trial against a charged person without a 'hearing' of the charge. However, the determination by the Magistrate will carry considerable weight.
Also, at the committal hearing the evidence against you will be heard and you will have a chance to bring forth your own evidence to answer the charge. You will also be able to use this evidence to argue for bail and, later, in the trial. If the charge proceeds to a trial the committal hearing can aid your defence by providing a preview to the case that will be brought against you.
The trial itself will be a long and complicated process in which, like the committal hearing, all the evidence will be presented. However, unlike at the committal hearing, the Judge or Magistrate (and, less often, a jury) will make a decision on whether the charge has been proven against you. If it is found that the charge has been proven the Magistrate or Judge will then pass sentence.
Magistrates and Judges will also make a large number of smaller decisions throughout the trial as to which evidence may be admitted for consideration, and will 'sum up' the case for the jury (if there is one) in which they will guide the jury in the making of the decision. The actions of the judge will most commonly be the subject of appeals.
It is important to understand what your rights are in the trial. Simply put, the rights of the accused person are to have a fair trial. These will include:
- to not be judged by prejudicial evidence;
- the presumption of innocence;
- to be judged by an impartial judge;
- to be judged by a jury in certain types of trials; and
- given a chance to hear the evidence against you and to present your own.
In the trial, your lawyer will be a passionate defender of these rights and will be constantly vigilant to be sure that you are given every chance of gaining a fair and just outcome. If it emerges that there were defects in any of these things, and you were convicted because of them, your lawyer will be able to advise you on the options of appealing in a higher court.
Protecting your future
It is important to remember that the Court (whether it is a Local Court, a District Court or the Supreme Court) will be making decisions that will affect your future and the future of those around you. During your trial, your legal representative will become an important figure in your life. putting your future in the hands of any one other than a qualified criminal law specialist is very risky and should be avoided.
If you are facing a criminal charge, don't risk taking on the case yourself, leaving it to a legal aid duty lawyer or a lawyer without specialist criminal law experience. When your future hangs in the balance get the right advice from the criminal law specialists George Sten & Co.