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COVID-19 and plea hearings in the Magistrates’ Court

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Magistrates' CourtWritten by Tyson Manicolo, Associate, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers

The Magistrates’ Court has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by adjourning most matters to later on in the year. However, this should not be treated as a reason to put your matter on the back-burner. As we are forced to bunker down during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a perfect opportunity for you to invest more time preparing for your up-coming plea hearing. Your plea hearing may be the single most significant event in your life. This may your first interaction with the Courts, you may be facing severe penalties, there may be implications which flow from a ‘conviction’ versus a ‘non-conviction’ disposition or your employment may be impacted by a particular penalty. Needless to say, if you have an up-coming matter, you must use this time to prepare prepare prepare.

In this blog, I am going to give you some tips on how to utilise your isolation and prepare for your up-coming plea hearing in the Magistrates’ Court.

1. Tell your lawyer from the outset the outcome you fear most.

Interestingly, people have different fears and expectations when it comes to Court outcomes. For some people, their main priority is to avoid a gaol sentence. For others, it might be to avoid a community correction order (a punishment in the community where the accused is ordered to complete unpaid community work and counselling for a period of time set by the Magistrate) even if that means receiving a short stint in gaol instead.

It just may be that the outcome is not in the realm of possibilities, in which case it is not worth fretting about or it may be a realistic probability which your lawyer should confirm with you from the beginning. Also, by knowing the outcome you fear most early on, your lawyer is able to prepare a strategy to avoid this. After all, this is part of the reason why you hired a lawyer.

2. Map out your life

Prepare a written time-line of your life highlighting key life events for your lawyer. Write down everything you feel comfortable sharing and your lawyer will filter through relevant and irrelevant information. Far too often, clients will not share something with me because they decided it was not important, when in fact it was.

3. Gather Character References

Character references are vital to a good plea hearing for many reasons:

  1. They show the sentencing Magistrate that you have discussed your offending with those close to you. This can be confronting and embarrassing for many people, which in of itself is a form of punishment.
  2. They show the sentencing Magistrate that you are connected to the community. This is positive because it is evidence that you contribute to the community in one form or another and people depend on you even if it is just as being a friend to someone.
  3. Your family, friends and work colleagues know you better than anyone else. Their assessment of your character will carry more weight than any submission your lawyer can make on your behalf during the plea hearing.

Anyone who knows you personally or professionally can write a character reference. This includes family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues or employers who are prepared to write something positive about you.

The perennial question I am asked is ‘how many character references should I get?’ As a general rule of thumb, I tell my clients that they can at least get one character reference from each person they live with. If they live alone, between 3 and 5 character references is a good amount. Ideally, you should gather at least one character reference from each facet of your life – Family, work, social.

Even-though you are not allowed to visit people, they can always email their reference to you or have it ready to give you once the restrictions are lifted.

4. Undergo Rehabilitative Courses

While there are lock-down rules, you should still look into remotely completing rehabilitative courses which are relevant to your offending. Such courses include anger management, men’s behaviour change programs, alcohol or drug counselling. These assist your plea hearing greatly because they show the sentencing Magistrate you acknowledge the source of your offending and you have done something to address it. Most Magistrates want to see that the risk of re-offending has been reduced.

During this time, most providers of rehabilitative courses are still operating through the zoom application, skype or over the phone. This is the perfect time to complete these courses because you are not distracted with work, school pick-ups and social commitments.

5. Work with your lawyer and make sure your lawyer works with you

Communication with your lawyer is a corner-stone to a great outcome at Court. Be pro-active and make a time to conference with your lawyer. The more conferences you have the better because it allows your lawyer to know you and your personal circumstances in more detail. This will make it easier for your lawyer to speak about you at the plea hearing.

At Doogue + George Defence Lawyers, our lawyers are working during this period and can offer face to face conferences via zoom. If you have an up-coming matter booked in for a plea hearing and would like to speak with a lawyer, call us on 9670 5111 to arrange a zoom conference.

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