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When you arrive at the Local Court with a Court Attendance Notice for a summary criminal matter you will often be greeted by a bustling courthouse with a mix of different people: other accused who look as lost as you feel; lawyers in suits; police officers in uniform and court staff buzzing around wearing lanyards and carrying clipboards.
If you are going to court without a lawyer, whether your matter is a parking ticket, an assault, a drink drive or anything in between, the first person you need to find is the Court Officer. The Court Officer’s job is to keep the day running smoothly. First thing in the morning they will have a list of all of the matters before the court that day and they’ll be working out who is there and what they are wanting to do with their matters.
When you find the Court Officer and tell them your surname, their first question will be: “Are you pleading guilty, not guilty or do you want an adjournment?”
This question can be tricky to answer, particularly when it feels like your situation is a little too complicated to fit into one of three categories. It can also be confronting if the Court Officer is busy and doesn’t have time to explain what these options mean.
So if it’s the week, or even perhaps the night, before the date on your Court Attendance Notice, here’s a bit of guidance on the three options you’ll be given when you arrive.
1. Pleading Guilty
Pleading guilty is accepting that you have committed the offence. If you plead guilty the next step is that you will be “sentenced” for the crime that you have agreed that you committed. This is where you have a chance to give the Magistrate an explanation for what happened and to ask for leniency because of the impact that the sentence might have on you and your particular circumstances.
Sometimes it is confusing deciding whether to plead guilty or not because you believe that while you have committed the offence, you have a good explanation for doing it. If that is the case, pleading guilty and then providing that explanation to the Magistrate is the option that you want to choose.
Sometimes people will know that they want to plead guilty to the offence, but they want extra time to prepare before they are sentenced. That extra time can be helpful because:
If you fall into this category you can enter your plea of guilty and ask the Magistrate for an adjournment to allow time for you to prepare for sentence.
2. Pleading Not Guilty
Not guilty is the plea to enter if you don’t believe that you committed the offence with which you have been charged.
When you enter a plea of not guilty for some charges the Magistrate will order the prosecution to provide you with a brief of evidence by a certain date and will give you a “reply” date. On the reply date you will need to come back to court and tell the Magistrate if you are still wanting to plead not guilty once you have had a chance to consider all of the evidence. If you are still pleading not guilty, you will be given a hearing date: this is when the Magistrate will hear all of the evidence and decide whether you are guilty or not guilty.
For other matters there is no need for a brief or evidence, so the Magistrate will go straight to setting a hearing date.
3. Asking for an Adjournment
The main reason for asking for an adjournment is to get legal advice. Often, particularly while sitting in court waiting for their matter to be called, people decide that their matter is too complicated to manage on their own, that they’re not quite sure about whether they should plead guilty or not guilty, or that they need an expert to negotiate the system to get them the best outcome. If you tell the court that you want an adjournment to see a lawyer then the Magistrate will generally give you one.
It can be difficult to change your plea if you have entered the wrong one (see this article- link to “I entered the wrong plea!”). So the best thing to do if you are unsure is to ask for an adjournment and give a lawyer a call. Armstrong Legal has a team of dedicated Criminal Lawyers who you can contact for advice before entering your plea or finalising your matter.
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