If you are charged with a criminal offence you might make the sensible decision to make an appointment to see an experienced criminal lawyer. Engaging the services of a criminal lawyer will help ensure that your rights and interests are being looked after in the best possible way while your charge/s proceeds through the court system.
This article provides an overview of what documents your lawyer will require you to bring to your first appointment, and the matters that are likely to be discussed at the first meeting.
What documentation will I need to bring to my first appointment?
If the police charge you with a criminal offence they must provide you with a number of particular documents. The documents will include a copy of the prosecution notices, a copy of the statement of material facts, and a copy of your bail undertaking or, alternatively, a court hearing notice.
It’s very important that you have a copy of these documents when you attend for your first appointment with your lawyer. Without these documents your lawyer won’t be in any real position to know exactly what you have been charged with, or the factual circumstances and matrix that has been alleged.
It is not uncommon for people who have been charged with a criminal offence to initially have very little knowledge of what the allegations against them are or exactly what they have been charged with. Having a copy of the prosecution notices and the statement of material facts at your first appointment will assist your lawyer to have a clear perspective of what the charges are, what the factual allegations involve and, accordingly, what advice needs to be given. The contents of the statement of material facts will also indicate whether the accused person participated in a police recorded interview.
Whether you participated in a recorded police interview is something your criminal lawyer will inevitably want to know when you attend for your first appointment.
Prosecution Notices and Statement of Material Facts: What are these documents?
The prosecution notice is a document that sets out the charge or charges that have been preferred and the section of the relevant legislation under which you have been charged.
The statement of material facts is a document that contains a synopsis of the factual allegations relating to the charge or charges.
The bail undertaking form will specify the time, date and place at which you are to attend court as well as any other conditions that have been imposed. Depending on the level of seriousness of the charge/s, the police can, and often do, release a person without a bail undertaking. In these circumstances a court hearing notice is issued which also specifies the time, date and place at which you are to attend court.
What if the police don’t provide me with these documents?
It’s not uncommon for the police to charge you and release you on a bail undertaking to attend court on a particular day and time without providing you immediately with a copy of your prosecution notice or statement of material facts. These documents may take time for the police to prepare and may be served on you at a later time. The police are however obliged to provide these documents to you prior to, or by the first court mention hearing.
What matters are likely to be discussed at the first appointment with a criminal lawyer?
After reading and considering your statement of material facts and prosecution notices, your lawyer will likely advise you about whether the alleged facts constitute the offence with which you have been charged. You will likely be advised of the meaning and content of the elements that make up your charge. Your lawyer will probably enquire with you what you intend to do with your charges and how you think you want to proceed (i.e. whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty).
Am I guilty or not guilty?
Often people may initially think they are guilty of the offence because they accept the statement of material facts as a correct and accurate reflection of what had occurred. For example; a person charged with assault may think they are guilty because they accept that they struck the victim as alleged.
However, further enquiry from their lawyer of the events that transpired may reveal that they have a defence to the charge because they were provoked or had acted in self defence. Conversely, a person may think their actions did not constitute the offence for which they have been charged when an objective assessment of the facts reveals the prosecution case against them is strong.
If you participated in a police recorded interview your lawyer may likely want to view and consider that interview before advising you whether you have a defence to your charge.
What matters do I need to know if I decide to plead guilty to my charge?
Ultimately, if you are advised that a plea of guilty is the better option, your lawyer should inform you of the maximum penalties provided for the offence/s and the likely outcome at sentencing. Rarely does a person receive the maximum penalty provided for an offence and often the penalty handed down at sentencing is a fraction of the maximum penalty that may be provided.
Your lawyer should also advise you of any other consequences which are likely to result from a conviction being recorded for the offence. For example a person may have been charged with being in possession of prohibited drugs, the quantity of which gives rise to an automatic traffic declaration and the ultimate seizure and confiscation of the person’s assets.
Your lawyer should also advise that you do not have to plead guilty, and emphasise that how you proceed with your matter is a matter for you to ultimately decide. Your lawyer should advise that if you decide to plead not guilty the prosecution would, in these circumstances, be required to prove each and every element of the offence and that you, as an accused person, are not required to prove anything.
How serious is my charge and where will it be heard and determined?
At your first appointment your lawyer may advise you about which court your matter will be ultimately determined in. In Western Australia criminal offences are made up of simple offences and indictable offences.
Simple offences are dealt with in the Magistrates Court. Generally speaking, simple offences are less serious than indictable offences, which are typically determined in the District or Supreme Courts. The Magistrates Court does not carry the power and jurisdiction to impose the lengthy terms of imprisonment that are commonly imposed in the District and Supreme Court. However, offences that are dealt with in the Magistrates Court can and often do attract terms of imprisonment.
If your charge is an indictable charge, unless it carries life imprisonment as a maximum penalty, the charge will more likely be heard in the District Court. If you are proceeding to trial in the District or Supreme Courts on a plea of not guilty, your matter will be heard before a judge and an empaneled jury. On the other hand, if your matter is being heard and determined in the Magistrates Court there is no jury and the Magistrate acts as both the trier of fact as well as the person that imposes the sentence.
Regardless of whether you are charged with a simple offence or an indictable offence, all prosecutions are commenced in the Magistrates Court. However the length of time of the judicial process for matters that are finalised in the Magistrates Court is shorter than if your charge proceeds on an indictment in the District or Supreme Court.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence and want to ensure your interests and future are being protected by an experienced criminal lawyer, contact the Law offices of Andrew Williams on 08 9278 2575 to arrange an appointment time.