Traffic offences and criminal charges can have serious consequences for people facing court alone, writes TGB's Perth Criminal Law team.
Traffic offences and criminal charges can have serious consequences for people facing court alone, writes TGB’s Perth Criminal Law team.
While each and every criminal case that comes before a Court is important to the person in the firing line – some matters are inherently more serious than others. However, even in matters perceived to be minor, it is usually in your best interests to be legally represented in Court and, even if you choose to represent yourself (which is your right) you should at least seek legal advice before doing so.
Technicalities of the law
You need to know the ‘test’ you must meet to succeed in your case, as well as the potential outcomes to any given situation, to give yourself the best chance of a reasonable outcome in your circumstances. Here are some examples of where people can get caught out:
Traffic offences can be deceptive as to their seriousness. They can range from a few hundred dollar fine to immediate (and sometimes mandatory) imprisonment. If you know the powers and discretions that the Court has, you are already in a better position to either persuade the Court of a reasonable outcome (if the Court has discretion) or prepare yourself for anything that you cannot change.
For example – many traffic offences, such as various ‘drink driving’ offences, have a minimum and maximum fine range set in legislation. This means that the Court could not impose a fine under the minimum (or over the maximum) even if it wanted to.
Further, most traffic offences attach a mandatory minimum period of licence disqualification. It is therefore imperative that you know your circumstances in advance so that you do not drive yourself to Court and become stranded when the Magistrate imposes an immediate disqualification you did not expect!
Spent Conviction Orders
It is important to understand that Magistrates make most decisions according to, essentially, a ‘tick-box’ exercise – weighing up the relevant factors before the Court.
Are you pleading guilty to the criminal charge, but wish to avoid a criminal record? It is not enough that you have never been in trouble with the law before and will not do it again. The law requires that the Magistrate is satisfied that you should be immediately relieved of the adverse effect a conviction might have on you.
Your lawyer can talk you through if and how you can demonstrate this requirement to the Court, and what evidence to provide in support of your application. Without being granted a spent conviction, every potential employer for years to come may see this indiscretion.
Extraordinary Drivers’ Licence application
Even with something that may seem simple – like applying for an Extraordinary Drivers’ Licence – people can often get confused (potentially losing their $182.00 filing fee!*).
Depending on why your licence is disqualified and whether you have any relevant previous convictions, there are a number of different waiting periods that must elapse before you can lodge a valid application. In some cases, you may not be eligible to apply at all.
Disqualified for drink driving? Did you know that the Court expects a liver function test to show alcohol consumption levels? Without such evidence your application may fail and then by law you must wait 6 months to reapply!
How does your immediate roadside disqualification impact your ability to apply? It is best to know the answers to questions like this before taking the time and money to lodge a (potentially invalid) application.
Having a lawyer talk you through your matter and the possible outcomes, and/or represent you in Court, is about more than just knowing the law. Court is certainly not a warm and fuzzy place. If speaking on your own behalf before a Magistrate and a room full of people waiting for their case to be called is not nerve racking enough, not knowing how things will unfold on the day makes the nerves a lot worse.
While you may wish to represent yourself, it can be the little things that make the difference to your courtroom experience – like knowing where to go when your name is called, that you should stand when speaking or being spoken to, and that you should address the Magistrate as ‘Your Honour’. Your lawyer will be well acquainted with this etiquette.
Peace of mind
The above are only a few examples of why it is in your best interests to get the right legal advice and/or representation in relation to your matter. After receiving some advice you may conclude that you can adequately represent yourself or you might decide that you would prefer a lawyer to represent you. Either way, you will be thankful you asked all those questions (no matter how big or small) and had one (or many) less things to worry about on the day.
For further assistance or advice about your legal issue contact us.