Criminal Trials (WA)
Defending criminal charges can be a very daunting experience. Criminal trials in Western Australia can be heard in the Magistrates Court, District Court, or Supreme Court. The court in which a trial is heard generally depends on the offence and what maximum penalty it carries. For example, in Western Australia, the charge of Common Assault is a ‘summary’ offence that is heard in the Magistrates Court. The charge of Assault Occasioning Bodily Harm is an ‘either way’ offence, which can be dealt summarily within the Magistrates Court or on indictment in the District Court. A grievous bodily harm charge is a strictly indictable offence which means that it is heard in the District Court on indictment. Murder, attempted murder, and manslaughter are all heard in the Supreme Court as these are very serious crimes.
Before a criminal trial
Once the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, their matter is adjourned to a ‘trial listing date’. The defendant may be remanded in custody or granted appeal bail in the interim.
On the trial listing date, the matter will be allocated a date for trial. The length of a criminal trial depends on many factors, including how many charges have been laid, how many witnesses are scheduled to be called to give evidence and whether there are co-accuseds. It may take up to a year before a matter comes to trial.
Before the trial date, the prosecution will provide the Defence with the documentary evidence that it intends to rely on. This may include images, statements, affidavits, police interviews, CCTV footage and forensic reports. Once the Defence has this material, it will be able to determine the strength of the Prosecution case against the accused.
Trials in the District and Supreme Court are generally heard by a judge and jury. Trials in the Magistrates Court are heard by a magistrate.
Presumption of innocence
A person accused of criminal offences has the benefit of a presumption of innocence. In a criminal trial, the prosecution has the burden of proof, meaning it must prove every element of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the only logical explanation that can be derived from the evidence must be that the accused person committed the offence.
Procedures for criminal trials
A criminal trial begins with the prosecution opening its case and summarising the case and what must be proven to establish the accused’s guilt. The defence will then advise the court of any matters that agreed and what significant matters are in dispute.
The prosecution will then call witnesses. The witnesses will be guided through their version of events. The defence will cross-examine each prosecution witness. The prosecution then may re-examine its witnesses to clarify any issues that arose during cross-examination.
Once all the prosecution witnesses have given evidence, the prosecution may play a record of the interview that police conducted with the defendant.
The defence may then call witnesses. An accused person does not have to give evidence during their trial. No adverse inference can be drawn from an accused person’s decision not to give evidence. If the defence calls witnesses, these witnesses will be cross-examined by the prosecution.
Once all witnesses have been called, the prosecution makes its closing submissions. The Defence will then make closing submissions.
After the magistrate has heard all the evidence and submissions, they will make a decision. If they find the accused guilty, they will then proceed to deliver a sentence. If the accused is found not guilty, the charges will be dismissed and they will be free to go.
It is important that any person accused of criminal offences receives sound legal advice prior to deciding to proceed to trial. The accused must be fully advised as to the strengths and weaknesses of their case and how best to prepare for the trial.
If you require legal advice in relation to a criminal trial or in any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.