Being charged with a criminal offence can be an extremely stressful time. As a first step, your best option is to find legal representation to assist you with your case. Otherwise, you will be representing yourself against the well resourced prosecution of the Crown.
In Victoria, most criminal offences are dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court. The Court which is allocated is usually the Court which is closest to where the alleged offence took place.
A criminal prosecution starts by way of a charge, which specifies the crimes which the Crown alleges the accused committed. The charge is often made by a police officer – who is called the informant. The police officer may give the charge to the accused at the time of arresting him/her or alternatively serve it by way of a summons.
It is important that you bring any documents you have received with you to your consultation and promptly inform your lawyer of any further documents that you may receive.
Summary or indictable offences
Criminal offences may be summary or indictable.
Summary offences are considered to be less serious crimes that are heard in the Magistrates’ Court only by a Magistrate and without a jury. Examples of these include: road traffic offences; property damage and minor assaults.
Indictable offences are more serious crimes that are heard before a judge and a jury. These offences carry more serious penalties for the offender if convicted. Most indictable offences are set out in the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) as well as other relevant legislation. Common examples of indictable offences include aggravated burglary; theft; arson; blackmail and negligently causing serious injury.
Some indictable offences can be heard summarily. This means that the case will be heard before a Magistrate without a jury. This only occurs if the Court considers that it is appropriate to hear and determine the charge summarily and the accused consents to this. It is important to note that the Magistrates’ Court, unlike the County Court or Supreme Court, is limited to shorter prison terms.
The first hearing date is a mention date. Typically, the matter will only be dealt with on that date if:
- The prosecution is ready; and
- The accused is pleading guilty to the charges.
If the accused pleads not guilty, the matter will be adjourned to a summary case conference or a contest mention hearing. This an opportunity for the parties to try and resolve the matter, and if resolution is not possible, to identify the issues in dispute and steps required to progress the matter to hearing.
An early plea of guilty is an extremely important mitigating factor against a criminal charge. Mitigation against a criminal charge means reducing or lessening the penalty.
Once a guilty plea is entered, the prosecution will read out a summary of the offence to the Court. The accused, or their lawyer, will have an opportunity to present any facts or relevant information (such as character references, doctors/psychologists reports) which may be accepted as a mitigating factor.
The Court will then impose a penalty, taking into account relevant sentencing considerations.
If the alleged crime is of a relatively minor nature, the accused may be eligible to have their charges dealt with by way of diversion. If successful, the accused will avoid a criminal record for those charges.
A well presented plea can make a significant difference in the severity of the sentencing imposed by the Magistrate. Our lawyers can provide you with expert guidance on how to best prepare for a guilty plea.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, finding the right representation is the first step in any case. Contact ASAP Lawyers for a confidential discussion about your matter on 03 9450 9400.