Road Traffic Offences

I’ve Been Accused of a Crime, What Should I Do?

TGB criminal lawyer Richard Yates on the steps to follow if you've been charged with a criminal or traffic offence in South Australia.


TGB criminal lawyer Richard Yates on the steps to follow if you’ve been charged with a criminal or traffic offence in South Australia.

Being accused of a criminal offence can be a traumatic experience, especially if it is a serious criminal offence. Even minor matters, such as traffic offences, can be stressful. There are often implications for work, finances, family and travel plans to consider. If you’re charged with an offence, here are some suggested steps to follow:

1. Know your rights when you deal with the authorities. As a general rule, you are not obliged to answer questions put to you by police or other investigative authorities and it is usually advisable not to do so if you are the accused. However there are exceptions to this rule. It can be a criminal offence not to answer some questions – for example you must give your name address and date of birth if asked by a police officer who is investigating an offence. Some authorities can compel you to answer any question even if the answer would tend to incriminate you. If in any doubt, seek legal advice.

2. If you receive an expiation notice (ie a fine) but think you haven’t done anything wrong, seek legal advice before you decide to contest the matter. Electing to be prosecuted in court rather than paying an expiation notice could be more expensive and risky than you think.

3. If you are arrested, listen closely to your rights as explained to you by police. Your rights include making a phone call to a friend or relative to inform them of your whereabouts, to have someone present during any interview, and to have an interpreter present if required. You also have the right to apply for bail. Initially this is to the officer in charge of the police station and then the Magistrates Court.

4. If you are released from custody on bail, read and understand you bail agreement. It is a legally binding document and it is a criminal offence to breach the conditions.

5. Seek legal advice prior to the first court date. This is now more important than ever with recent changes to the law giving significant penalty discounts for early guilty pleas. Read more about this here.

6. Avoid talking to people about the case. While this can be difficult, evidence can be called at criminal trials and/or during sentencing about what you have told people around you or published (eg on social media) about the case.

7. Turn up to your first court appearance. While this might seem straightforward, some people assume courts adjourn cases when accused persons fail to show. If you don’t turn up to court, you could be found guilty of the offence in your absence, or a warrant could be issued for your arrest.

8. When you see a lawyer for the first time, don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you leave the appointment you should have a good idea about lawyer costs, what the next steps are, what the lawyer is going to do and what they expect you to do prior to the matter returning to court.

Matters finalise in a number of ways. Some people plead guilty to charges. Some plead not guilty and the matter proceeds to a trial where evidence is called and the court determines guilt or innocence. Sometimes the police decide not to proceed with the charges. Sometimes there are prospects of recovering some of your legal costs incurred. A lawyer will be able to advise you on these issues.

For advice about your criminal law matter contact your nearest TGB office