Different Ways Your Case Can Finalise in the Magistrates’ Court
This article was first published on 12 May 2021. The enactment of the Spent Convictions Act 2021 (Vic) means that certain findings of guilt may now become spent. Please read our articles about spent convictions to read more about the current legislation and process.
The article Different Ways Your Case Can Finalise in the Magistrates’ Court is written by Annamiek Van Loon, Senior Associate, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers.
Annamiek is currently based at our Melbourne office. She is experienced in handling criminal cases at the Magistrates' Courts especially where it involves contested charges or bail applications as well as pleas of guilty.
Before becoming a part of Doogue + George, Annamiek was an associate to a County Court Judge in Victoria. She has also worked for another criminal law firm for nine years and has interned for both Victoria Legal Aid and the Criminal Law Section of the Law Institute of Victoria.
If you have been charged by the police, you might be surprised to know that there are five ways your case can finalise in the Magistrates’ Court. Three out of five of the ways leave you with no criminal record for those charges. This article will explain the five different ways in which your criminal matter can finalise in the Magistrates’ Court.
Charges withdrawn by the prosecution
It is your right to contest charges if you don’t agree with them. It is on the prosecution to prove your guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. If the police case is seriously weak or flawed, a lawyer can assist you in trying to get the charges withdrawn against you without going to a contested hearing. Your lawyer can review the brief of evidence, hear your side of the story and highlight the issues with the brief and why the charges should be withdrawn to the prosecution. This sometimes happens before the first Court hearing. If the charges are withdrawn, the matter is finalised and you don’t end up with a criminal record.
I have had charges withdrawn at first mention stage. This requires detailed brief analysis and extensive negotiations with the prosecution ahead of Court. If you have been charged with offences that you dispute, you should seek legal advice as there is a chance the charges can be withdrawn at the first stage of the Court process.
The charges are discharged after successfully completing the Diversion program
If you are prepared to take responsibility for the offending but it isn’t overly serious, you haven’t been in any real trouble before and the charges are eligible, you may be able to participate for the Criminal Justice Diversion Program (‘Diversion’).
Diversion is a two-step process that requires:
- Prosecution recommendation; and
- A Magistrate agreeing that you are a suitable candidate.
Please note, a Magistrate cannot grant your application for Diversion unless prosecutors recommend you for Diversion. It is a two-stage process.
If the Court gives you this opportunity and you go on to successfully complete the Diversion plan, the charges are discharged and your criminal record remains unblemished. This is a great opportunity for you to pay your dues without serious consequences.
If you would like to know if you are eligible for Diversion, you should contact one of our experienced criminal lawyers as soon as possible after you are charged. We can look at the brief to determine their seriousness and give you “homework tasks” to complete, and put together a strong pitch on your behalf to persuade prosecutors to recommend you diversion. Many of my clients have successfully completed diversion programs and avoided criminal records – it is always the best feeling knowing you are changing someone’s life by helping them avoid a criminal record which can impact on future job and travel opportunities.
You plead guilty
If you are prepared to take responsibility for the offending and it is too serious for Diversion, you can enter a formal plea of guilty in Court. You would only do this if you agree with the charges and conduct alleged by police, or if you have asked for a sentence indication and you are prepared to enter a plea on the basis of the sentence indicated. Pleading guilty has the consequence of a criminal record – the charges you plead to, and the sentence you get, will show up on your record. Depending on the seriousness of the charges and the penalty you get, the record might become ‘spent’ following the passing of the Spent Conviction Act 2021 (Vic).
Before pleading guilty, it is important you seek legal advice – skilled criminal lawyers will not only be able to advise you whether it is a good idea or not, they can also advise on whether the charges are right, the likely penalties, and the work that can be done to receive the best possible outcome. Going to court should be taken seriously and speaking to an experienced defence lawyer beforehand is a must.
You plead not guilty and you are acquitted
If you contest your charges and a Magistrate is not satisfied that the prosecution have proved their case beyond reasonable doubt, you will be acquitted. This is one of the best ways your case can finalise in the Magistrates’ Court. A skilled barrister will test the prosecution evidence in Court by cross-examining witnesses.
You should receive advice about your prospects of successfully defending the charges before deciding to plead not guilty.
An acquittal is a win and means your charges are discharged. It means the charges do not show up on a Criminal Record Check.
You plead not guilty and you are found guilty
If you lose a contested hearing, meaning you are found guilty of some or all of the charges by a Magistrate, you will then be sentenced and this will be reflected on your criminal record. Again, depending on the situation these charges might become ‘spent’ and future employers or bodies might not ever see these Court outcomes.
Before pleading not guilty, you should seek professional qualified criminal law advice – if the police case is strong it might be in your best interests to resolve your matter without taking your matter to contest.
There are significant risks associated with being charged. You want to make time to speak with one of our lawyers to make sure you receive strategically sound advice. Poor decisions can lead to worse outcomes. It is important to get some advice from the beginning if it is likely you will be found guilty or not guilty and to work out a strategy.