Last Updated on January 19, 2023 by Faiza Murtaza
When the police have concluded an investigation, the member responsible for the investigation, who is known as the informant, will compile a brief of evidence which will be considered by a more senior officer, usually a sergeant, who will decide whether or not to initiate proceedings against you. If a decision is made to initiate proceedings, the informant will file charges with the Registry of the Magistrates Court who will set down a court date after which the charges will be served on you.
Given you are reading this, we expect that either you or someone important to you has been charged with an offence. Here it is important to note that just because a person has been charged does not mean that they will be convicted. Obviously it follows that a person who has been charged should engage a criminal lawyer to assist them in understanding what might happen to them and what options are available to them.
An experienced criminal lawyer will help you in understanding the case against you, what (if any) defences are available to you, how to navigate court, what your options are and how to set about achieving the best possible outcome that is available to you given the evidence against you and having regard to your personal circumstances.
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Being charged with an offence
In Victoria if the police believe that a person has committed or is about to commit an offence, they have broad powers. For instance, where the police have reasonable grounds to suspect a person has committed an offence or is about to commit an offence involving drugs, they have power under the Drug Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic) to search that person or search the vehicle that person is in. If drugs are located or some other crime is detected as a result of the search that person will be arrested and charges will ordinarily flow.
Police also have the power to arrest a person who is suspected of having committed an indictable offence for the purpose of interviewing and questioning that person.
You should make every effort to obtain legal advice before participating in an interview with the police, which of course can be a challenge if they arrest you to interview you before you have had such an opportunity. Here we note that sometimes the police will contact you and ask you to attend the police station for questioning. It is in these circumstances that you will have the opportunity to seek legal advice before you attend the station for your interview. We urge you to take this opportunity when it arises. You should engage an experienced criminal lawyer before you attend the interview. They will explain your rights to you and help you in making the important decision of either providing an account to the police or exercising your right to remain silent. If you choose to give an account, what you say becomes evidence in court. It follows that it is very helpful to you if, before you are interviewed, you know your rights, understand the interview process and have a strategy in place.
If the police charge you with an offence, they must give you a charge sheet, which provides details about the charge. It is important to thoroughly read the charge sheet for instructions such as the date you are to attend court because failing to do so will result in a warrant being issued for your arrest and may also result in you being charged with a further offence.
Summary offences -v- indictable offences
If you have engaged a criminal lawyer, they will explain to you whether you have been charged with a summary offence or an indictable offence, or a combination of both types of offences.
Summary offences are generally considered to be less serious. Summary offences are mainly found in the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) and are always dealt with in the Magistrates Court. Penalties for summary offences vary, with the highest penalty for a single summary charge being two years imprisonment. Examples of summary offences include:
- careless driving;
- drink driving;
- unlawful assault;
- wilful damage; and
- offensive behaviour in public.
Indictable offences are more serious offences which often progress to higher courts, such as the Supreme Court and the County Court. They are mainly found in the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). The maximum penalties also vary. The maximum penalty for an indictable offence can be as low as five years imprisonment and as high as life imprisonment. Examples of indictable offences include:
- aggravated burglary;
- indecent assault;
- trafficking in a drug of dependence; and
- negligent driving causing serious injury.
Being Charged and The Question of Bail
At the time of being charged with an offence a person may also be remanded into custody. There are a number of reasons why this may happen, including:
- the seriousness of the offence with which they have been charged;
- The Bail Act 1977 (Vic) requiring a judicial officer (rather than the police or a bail justice) to make the decision concerning whether or not to bail them; or
- The police being of the view that the person is an unacceptable risk of failing to attend court for their case, committing an offence, interfering with a witness or endangering the welfare of any member of the community.
Given that being charged with an offence can also lead to a person’s liberty being taken from them, they will need an experienced criminal lawyer who is well equipped to advise them, their family and their supporters about what is needed, and what matters ought to be put to the court, to give that person the best opportunity of successfully applying for bail.
Criminal lawyers in Melbourne
Being charged with an offence, especially an indictable offence, is a very serious matter. Navigating and making sense of the court processes and procedures is often complicated and confusing, particularly for a person who has never been charged with an offence before. It follows that engaging an experienced criminal lawyer as early as possible is important.
The lawyers at Stary Norton Halphen practice exclusively in criminal law. After reviewing the evidence in the case against you they will advise you as to whether you have a viable defence and, if you do, how to prepare and run that defence; or alternatively if you do not, they will provide you with advice as to how to achieve the lowest penalty possible having regard to the circumstances of your case. This may include negotiating a resolution to a plea of guilty to a less serious charge on the basis that a more serious alternative charge is withdrawn; providing you with advice as to the plea material you should obtain; and the rehabilitative courses you can undertake so that when your case is heard there is evidence that can be put to the court in support of you being sentenced to the lightest penalty possible.
If you have been charged by the police and require the services of criminal lawyers in Melbourne, whatever offence you have been charged with you should contact the team at Stary Norton Halphen.