Being charged for a criminal offence is a stressful situation for anyone, regardless of your history. In Queensland, the charging process varies depending on the circumstances of your offence. Here, we break down what to do when you're charged with a criminal offence and how an expert criminal lawyer can assist at this time.
Charges can be given in three methods – complaint and summons, notice to appear and arrest.
What happens when I am charged?
A charge is a formal allegation of an offence, even if guilt isn't proven. There are three different methods by which charges are given in Queensland.
- Notice to appear
A notice to appear in Court – usually the Magistrates Court – can be issued immediately by police. This notice normally describes the alleged offence without identifying particulars of the offending.
- Complaint and summons
As a charge sworn under oath by a justice of the peace, a complaint and summons is served without the need for the defendent to go to a police station. Depending on the immediacy, those met with a complaint and summons charge are expected to appear in Court in the subsequent weeks.
One of the more well-known forms of charge, an arrest involves the accused being taken to a watch house, which can involve force if required. At the watch house, formal charges are imposed.
Offences are considered under two different classifications – summary and indictable offences. Summary offences are generally minor, such as traffic infringements and disorderly conduct. Serious crimes such as rape, assault and murder are classified as indictable offences. The type of offence committed impacts how charges are given. A serious charge, for example grievous bodily harm, is likely to result in an arrest, while a traffic infringement may result in a notice to appear.
Ensuring you appear in court on the date shown on the notice to appear, complaint and summons, or bail undertaking is of paramount importance. Failure to do so can leave you liable for extra charges, and in some cases, warrants being released for your arrest.
After you've been charged, it's vital to go through the police prosecution file with your lawyer to build your case.
What should I do after I have been charged?
After you have been charged, there are several steps you'll need to follow to ensure you're prepared for the court process. The first is to read your charge sheet, ensuring there's a full understanding what is alleged against you.
In addition to this sheet, you'll need to read the police prosecution file, which is a comprehensive document integral to ensuring that you're fully prepared for your court appearance. This document generally includes two parts. The first is the QP9 document, which notes the following:
- An overview of the offence.
- The legislation you're being charged under.
- A summary of your criminal history, including related offences.
Going through your QP9 with an expert criminal lawyer is vital when preparing for a court appearance, particularly if you choose to plead not guilty as it gives an insight into what points the prosecution are going to argue in court. The other part of the prosecution file is the police brief, which is an outline of witness statements and any extra notes made at the time. This material is not usually provided for summary offences, unless specifically requested by the person charged, or if the matter is progressing to summary trial.
Depending on whether you plead guilty or not guilty, court proceedings will vary.
What happens with different pleas?
Once the different factors of the case are considered, you'll need to decide how you'll plead – either guilty, or not guilty. Pleading guilty is relatively straightforward, granted that you understand and accept the charges alleged against you. A not guilty plea, however, is a different process. Once a not guilty plea has been indicated, the matter will be listed for trial.
During the initial stages of your proceeding, it's imperative to discuss your case with your lawyer, and obtain a copy of the material alleged against you.
Most indictable matters cannot be finalised in the Magistrates Court, and will need to be heard in the Supreme or District Court. Due to this, these charges are initially placed in what is called the "committal call over stream". This is a preliminary hearing of the matter where you can request disclosure of the material concerning your case, before it is transferred to the higher court.
In preparing for your court date, it is incredibly important to review the police evidence and prosecution documents with the help of a criminal lawyer. This is where Russo Lawyers steps in.
With over 30 years' experience in the world of criminal law, the team at Russo Lawyers are dedicated to guiding their clients through the legal process for a favourable outcome. We have had successful appearances across a range of charges, including those in the Queensland Supreme Court and the Children's Court. If you have been charged with a criminal offence, reach out to the team at Russo Lawyers for a free initial phone consultation for assistance with your case.