If you have been charged with a criminal or traffic offence, it is important that you take your charges seriously and seek legal advice as soon as possible – even if you believe that the charges aren’t serious.
Many people assume that charges like offensive language, reckless damage, negligent driving and other less-serious offences don’t have serious consequences and therefore delay or forego seeking legal advice, but this can be a mistake and can lead to long-term issues for you and your family.
Although it may be tempting to plead guilty to a minor criminal charge so that you can get the matter over with as quickly as possible, it is best to evaluate all your options before you make a decision.
If you are being prosecuted for a trivial offence you still run the risk of being given a lifelong criminal conviction, or in the case of a traffic offence, losing your licence.
A criminal conviction may impact your ability to work, or apply for a travel or migration visa in the future.
An experienced criminal lawyer can explain your options and help you defend yourself in court if that is what you decide to do.
There are a number of ways you can help ensure a positive outcome, even if you intend to plead guilty to your charges.
Ask for a non conviction order
A section 10 dismissal or conditional release order is a finding of guilt with no conviction.
If you are granted a section 10 dismissal or conditional release order, you may be placed on a good behaviour bond and required to abide by certain conditions for a set period of time.
During this time, the non conviction order will appear on your criminal record but once the conditions have been fulfilled and the required time period has elapsed, the conviction will no longer appear.
To get a non conviction order you will need to plead guilty to the charges you are facing. Non conviction orders are given at the discretion of the magistrate or judge, and whether or not you are able to obtain one depends on a number of different factors.
The trivial nature of your offence is one of the main deciding factors, and although it is possible to get a non conviction order for a serious offence, you are more likely to be successful if the offence is minor.
If you are given a non conviction order for a driving offence, you will be able to keep your licence and avoid disqualification.
The other factors which will be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to grant a non conviction order include:
- Your character and previous criminal history.
- Your age and whether or not you have a mental health condition.
- Any extenuating circumstances at the time the offence was committed.
- Anything else that the court considers to be of significance.
Your lawyer will be able to tell you whether or not you are likely to get a non conviction order and if appropriate ask for one on your behalf.
They can also help you obtain character references and advise you on anything that you can do to help increase your chances of getting a non conviction order, such as enrolling in counselling or drug and alcohol rehabilitation, safe driving classes or anything else that might assist you and demonstrate to the court that you understand the seriousness of the charges and are taking steps to avoid a repeat offence.
Defending yourself against the charges
If you disagree with the charges against you, you can choose to plead not guilty and take the matter to a defended hearing.
You will need to prepare as much evidence as you can to support your case, even if the matter is relatively minor or trivial.
It is a good idea to find a lawyer to represent you in court and argue your case for you, or at the very least seek professional legal advice about how best to defend yourself.
Your defence will depend on the circumstances surrounding the matter and what offence you were accused of.
If, after hearing the evidence from both sides, the magistrate decides that you did not commit the offence you have been charged with, you will be found not guilty and will not face any penalties.
If you are found guilty, you will be given a sentence that can be anything from a good behaviour bond to a fine or imprisonment.
Being found guilty of any offence will mean you are likely to have a conviction on your criminal record, which could impact your ability to work in certain occupations, own a firearm or travel to certain countries.
If you are found guilty of a traffic offence, you may face disqualification from driving, which could impact your ability to work and meet your family commitments.
If you are facing criminal charges the impact of being found guilty can be significant and affect your future.
Make sure you seek legal advice even for trivial matters to ensure the best possibility of a positive outcome.