Pleading Not Guilty to a Drug Charge in the Local Court
All charges relating to drug possession and self-administering a drug are finalised in the Local Court in New South Wales. However, some charges of drug supply, manufacture, cultivate and import drug charges may be dealt with in the District Court. This article outlines what happens when a person pleads not guilty to drug charges in the Local Court.
Procedural steps when pleading not guilty to drug charges
If you have been charged with drug offences and you want to plead not guilty, you will need to inform the court of this. Your matter will then be adjourned for a period long enough for the police to prepare a brief of evidence. A brief of evidence contains all the evidence that the police intend to rely upon at the contested hearing of the matter. Generally, police are not able to call additional evidence that was not contained in the brief of evidence and served on you 14 days prior to the hearing..
At your second court appearance and if the police have served the brief of evidence and you still want to plead not guilty, you or your lawyer will ask the Registrar for a hearing date. You will be asked to complete a court listing advice that identifies the witnesses you want to cross examine and your estimate of how long the hearing will take.
You may be asked what is in issue. It is possible to subpoena a person or organisation to produce documents that may help your case. If a subpoena is issued, your lawyer will obtain a further mention date prior to the hearing to allow plenty of time to inspect the documents prior to the hearing.
The contested hearing
In order for the court to find a person guilty of an offence, the police must prove that they are guilty of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Magistrate has a reasonable doubt then they must dismiss the charge. Before making this decision, the court must hear the prosecution case and the defence case.
The prosecution case
The police prosecutor will call witnesses to try and prove that you committed the drug offence. Your lawyer may object to questions asked by the prosecutor in certain circumstances. After the prosecutor has finished asking the witness questions your lawyer may cross examine the witness. After your lawyer has finished cross examining the witness the prosecutor will be able to clarify any answers in re examination. After all witnesses have given evidence the prosecutor will close the prosecution case.
Is there a Prima Facie Case?
Before you are required to answer the police case, the Magistrate has to decide whether taking the prosecution case at its highest you could be lawfully convicted of the offence. Your lawyer is able to make submissions to the Magistrate as to why you could not be lawfully convicted based on the evidence the court has already heard. If the court accepts this, the case against you will be dismissed without hearing from the defence.
The Defence Case
If the court decides there is a prima facie case, it will proceed to hear the defence case. If you intend to give evidence, then you would normally give evidence first. Your lawyer will ask you a series of questions so that you give all relevant evidence. Try to relax and give evidence as you remember the events. Remember, rehearsed evidence often sounds artificial, so try and be natural.
After all witnesses have given evidence, the prosecution will make submissions as to why you should be found guilty. Your lawyer will then make submissions as to why you should not be found guilty. The Magistrate will make their decision based on the evidence and submissions given. shortly after submissions are given by both parties. The Magistrate will find you either guilty or not guilty.
If you are found not guilty you may be able to claim your legal costs in some cases.
If you are found guilty then you will be sentenced.
Following is a list of penalties that could be imposed by the court if you are found guilty.
- Section 10 (matter proven but dismissed) – no criminal conviction and no loss of licence
- Good behaviour bond – A bond to be of good behaviour for a stipulated period
- Community service order – Unpaid work in the community
- Suspended sentence – A prison sentence suspended upon you entering into a good behaviour bond
- Periodic detention – Part time prison sentence either mid week or weekend detention
- Home detention – A prison sentence served at your home
- Prison – Full-time custody in a correctional centre
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.