Two recent incidents have cast a spotlight on how small matters can quickly turn into monumental legal issues.
A Queensland man caused a hijacking scare on a flight to Bali on Friday after mistaking the cockpit for the toilet, while an elderly man is facing a potential prison sentence after a heated strata meeting in Sydney last week.
Queensland plumber Matt Lockley made a statement to the media that he had a panic attack during the Virgin Australia flight, and banged on the cockpit door, which he mistakenly thought was the toilet cubicle.
His error, however, caused the pilot to hit the hijack alert, which consequently triggered full military procedures and closed one of Indonesia’s busiest airports for around an hour during peak Friday travel.
He has been released by Indonesian authorities, but may still be prosecuted in Australia.
In the second incident, an 85-year-old man allegedly shot a 66-year-old man during a strata meeting in Sydney’s west on Thursday.
Illie Istudor is now in custody charged with discharging a firearm with intent to murder, and possession of ammunition and an unlicensed gun.
Hindsight has incredible benefits in these moments.
What may have been a simple mistake by Lockley has landed him into potentially a large legal problem; and life may never be the same.
If only emotions had been controlled at a strata meeting, the outcomes might have been different and no one might have gotten hurt.
What is critical to note is that once incidents become large legal problems, they are examined to the smallest of details by lawyers, police, and the judge and jury if the matter goes to trial.
So if you are faced with a small matter that has turned into a large legal problem, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.
How to protect yourself
Not all incidents are as serious as the above examples.
Say for example you’re driving in your car on the motorway. A driver in another lane almost hits you.
Angrily, and to you justifiably, you beep your horn at that person.
Road rage takes over and you pull over and next thing you know you are in a major heated argument on the side of the motorway.
The driver punches you and you retaliate, knocking the other driver out.
One small matter that could and should have been unremarkable has turned into a serious assault with you being arrested and facing court.
Write down what happened
If you can, write the events down on a piece of paper while they are fresh in your mind.
This is different from writing something down when interviewed by police. Keep your paper to yourself or for your lawyer’s eyes.
If the matter goes to a defended hearing, you may need to give testimony about what you saw, how fast you were driving, why you beeped your horn, how long you held down your horn, who approached who first, who threw the first punch, where you were hurt, how did you retaliate, etc.
Defended hearings tend to take place in court several months after the incident. As time goes by, your memory of the event is not as fresh as it was when it happened.
However, if you have written details of the incident down, you can refresh your memory. This can be crucial when giving evidence in court.
Call your criminal defence lawyer
If you have been arrested, you have the right to telephone or contact your lawyer before you are interviewed by police.
If you don’t have a regular lawyer, Sydney Criminal Lawyers has a team of highly experienced defence lawyers available.
Alternatively, legal aid or the duty solicitor can be arranged.
One of the first matters to consider is bail.
The right representation may, depending on the offence, mean the difference between being released on bail or remaining in custody.
Give serious consideration to your plea
After bail, you ought to give serious consideration to your plea, and whether you wish to plead guilty or not guilty.
An experienced criminal defence lawyer has the know-how to look at the relevant evidence and advise you as to whether the police have enough evidence to prove the charge.
But the decision about your plea rests with you.
Pleading guilty means that a magistrate will hear from your lawyer before imposing a penalty.
It may be sensible to plead guilty when the prosecution can clearly prove the offence.
You get credit for your early guilty plea so your penalty is lessened.
Pleading not guilty takes the matter to hearing or jury trial.
You may plead this way because you did not commit the offence, or because the prosecution does not appear to have enough evidence to prove it.
You could be found not guilty and discharged, especially if you have an experienced lawyer defending you.
But there is always a risk in this decision that you could be found guilty too.
This is where that small matter, the angry beep of your horn, has ended up a large legal problem – one that could affect your life permanently.
So perhaps the lesson we ought to take from the recent actions of Lockley and Istudor is to be mindful of what we are doing.
It’s probably best to show restraint, and to be alert, and that way, the small moment could remain just that and pass by without significance.
And if you do find yourself in a difficult situation, talk to a good defence lawyer for guidance on how you can minimise the impact of your actions.