If you have been charged with a criminal offence, the police will provide you with a Court Attendance Notice noting the offence and the date that you are required to appear before a Local Court.
At the first appearance, you will have the opportunity to either enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charge. You should obtain legal advice prior to entering a plea.
Plea of guilty
If you enter a plea of guilty, your matter will likely be adjourned for some weeks for sentencing.
During the period of adjournment you can get together all those documents you want to submit to the judge in support of your sentencing submissions – such things as character references, a letter from your employer, rehabilitation reports, medical reports, to attend the Traffic Offenders Program, etc. The adjournment will also allow time for any pre-sentence reports (Sentencing Assessment Reports) requested by the magistrate to be obtained.
Your sentencing will involve the police prosecutor providing to the Magistrate the facts relied upon by the police and a copy of your criminal and/or driving history.
Sentencing in the Local Court of NSW usually proceeds by way of submissions made by your solicitor detailing to the Court any mitigating circumstances relevant to your offending behaviour, and tendering character references and other documents in support of the submissions.
A Sentencing Assessment Report will be requested by the magistrate if your offending is serious or you have a significant criminal record.
Sentencing Assessment Reports are prepared by Community Correction NSW and detail the sentencing options available. These reports assess an offender’s suitability for such things as regular supervision, counselling, rehabilitation in community service work. Such reports are required for any sentences other than a Conditional Release Order or fine. Conditional Release Orders have replaced good behaviour bonds since September 2018. They allow a magistrate to release an offender on certain conditions. The standard conditions are that the offender be of good behaviour and appear before the court if called on to do so.
If your matter is an indictable offence, and the Director of Public Prosecutions elects for it to be dealt with in the District or Supreme Court, then the matter will proceed by a specialised timetable and you will be committed for sentence in the District or Supreme Court.
If you have been charged with a traffic offence, your matter may also be adjourned for you to attend a Traffic Offenders Program. The Traffic Offenders Program is a 6-8 week (depending upon the location) driver education program which will have an effect upon the length of disqualification and fine imposed by the Court.
Contesting the charge – Plea of not guilty
If you enter a plea of not guilty on the first occasion, your matter will be adjourned for six weeks so that the prosecution can serve upon you or your solicitor, a copy of all evidence that they will rely upon at the Hearing of your matter.
Police are obliged to provide a copy of written statements of all witnesses that they seek to call in the prosecution of your matter, as the onus is on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you have committed a criminal offence.
After service of the Police Brief of Evidence, you will again appear before the Court for a ‘second mention’. At the second mention, unless you change your plea to guilty, the Court will list your matter for Hearing at the next available opportunity.
Generally, the third time that you will appear before that Court will be when your matter proceeds to a Hearing. On this date, you will be required to bring to Court all witnesses that you seek to rely in the defence of the charge. Witnesses are required to give evidence in person and must be made available for cross-examination by the prosecution. All prosecution witnesses are required to be made available for cross-examination.
If you have been charged with a domestic violence offence there will be no second mention and the matter will be listed for Hearing at the first appearance if the charge is contested. The brief will be served at least 14 days prior to the Hearing.
If you are found not guilty of the offence, this will complete your matter and no further action can be taken by police.
If your matter proceeds to a contested Hearing and you are found guilty, the sentencing procedure noted above will apply.