Being involved in a minor criminal offence where you are required to attend court can be an especially stressful experience. As your first day in court nears the anxiety can mount. However if you take the time to prepare and familiarize yourself with the legal process and what you should expect, your concerns will be reduced and you will find yourself more at ease.
Leading up to your court case
Firstly, it is crucial to address the following immediate concerns:
- Do you need the assistance of an attorney?
- Do you need an interpreter?
If you believe you will need the help of a legal professional, you have a few different options. Depending upon your financial circumstances, you can look at hiring a private attorney to assist you. This attorney will usually require a fee for services rendered – called a retainer agreement. You will be required to put down a specific amount of money to secure legal representation.
If you cannot afford to retain a private attorney, you can ask for assistance from Legal Aid NSW, who will be able to advise on your matter free of charge. In some cases, Legal Aid NSW will be able to provide legal representation, providing your matter meets their eligibility tests.
Alternatively, if neither of these options suit you, you can choose to represent yourself in court. If you decide to speak on your own behalf, it is wise to carefully review the charges against you and the laws which will be applied to your case.
It is important to address whether or not you require an interpreter prior to your court case. If you do not speak or understand English well and believe that you will require an interpreter, the court can arrange for one to assist you. If you feel that you will require this service, it is important to contact the court at least fourteen days prior to your attendance date to ensure that one can be organized for you.
The day of your court case
On the day of your hearing, it is important that you review your court attendance notice in great detail. The notice will give you important information such as the time, date, and address of the court you are to appear in front of. In addition, it will likely tell you which court room your hearing will be held in.
First impressions matter, therefore we recommend that the following etiquette be followed;
- Physical appearance is important – it is highly recommended that you present at the courthouse looking neat and tidy
- Arrive at the courthouse at least 30 minutes before your scheduled appearance
- Find your courtroom immediately
Once you have found and confirmed the courtroom that your matter will be heard in, you will need to take the following steps;
- Speak with the judicial officer outside of your hearing room to determine if you need to check in and advise the court that you are present
- Be cooperative and answer any preliminary questions the judicial officer might ask of you
- Wait in the designated waiting area. If you need to leave the area of any reason, including to visit the restroom, be sure to advise the judicial officer that you are only stepping away for a moment
Once you are in the courtroom you will notice that the Magistrate will be seated at the front of the room. If you have appointed an attorney to assist with your case, you will need to take your seat next to them. The Magistrate will address you through your attorney, and if you need to speak, you will be directed to do so by either your attorney or the Magistrate. If you are not directed to speak, it is best to sit quietly and listen.
If you are representing yourself, the Magistrate will address you when it is your turn to speak. Do not speak unless the Magistrate directly addresses you. When addressing the court, be sure to speak clearly and slowly and with a full understanding of why you are present and your position with regard to the charges against you.
You can expect that your hearing will go through the following stages of processing your issues;
- Your name will be established
- Your status of representation (attorney or self-represented) will be noted
- The charges against you will be read
- You will be asked if you are pleading guilty or not guilty
- If you plead not guilty, your case will be assigned to the next level of the judicial process. This level will depend upon the seriousness of your crime
- Depending on the seriousness of your case, a trial date may be set for you to return to defend yourself against the charges
- Subsequently if you, your attorney, and the prosecutor can come to an agreement on the day, you may be able to settle your case without a trial by jury
- If you cannot settle your case, a trial will ensue
- At the end of the trial your jury will either find you guilty or not guilty
- If you are found guilty, you will be sentenced accordingly
- If you are found not guilty the ordeal will be over and you will be free to leave the courtroom
- The final step in the process of being found guilty entitles you to appeal the finding to a higher court
The process of appearing before court for a minor criminal offence can be daunting. It is always best to make your first court appearance with the assistance of an attorney who can provide you with legal advice and protect your rights during the course of the experience.
In the event that you find yourself in need of such assistance, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.