LawAccess NSW > Representing Yourself > Driving offences and crime

Criminal offences

This section has information to ​help you when you go to court for a minor criminal offence.

    What is a crime?

    A crime occurs when a person breaks a law and commits an offence against the community in general o​r against a particular victim.

    In Australia there are NSW laws and Commonwealth laws. Commonwealth laws apply in all states and territories.  These laws define offences and state a maximum penalty that a court can give you, such as a fine and/or a prison sentence if you commit the offence.

    If you are charged with an offence this means you have been accused of doing something that is against the law. If you are found guilty, the magistrate or judge will then decide what penalty or punishment you should get.

    What can you be charged with?

    There are many different offences covering lots of different situations. The majority of people charged with a criminal offence have their matter heard in the local court. More serious offences are heard in the district court or the supreme court.

    Some of the more common offences include:

    • driving offences
    • larceny (stealing)
    • destroying or damaging property
    • possessing a prohibited drug
    • common assault.

    Icon - alertIf you have been charged with a criminal offence, you should get legal advice.

    Who can charge you?

    Who charges you depends on the type of criminal offence you commit and where it occurs. For example, you could be charged by:

    • NSW Police
    • Federal Police
    • Roads and Maritime Services (RMS)
    • Councils
    • Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions or Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions
    • NSW Environment Protection Authority.

    The person who runs the case against you in court is called a 'prosecutor'. They must try to prove to the court that you committed the offence 'beyond a reasonable doubt'. This means that the magistrate must be sure you committed the offence and have no reasonable doubt.

    What do they have to prove?

    Criminal offences can usually be broken down into parts, known as 'elements of the offence'. The prosecutor must prove to the magistrate each element of the offence 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.

    For example, the charge of 'destroy or damage property' may be broken down into the following elements:

    1. the defendant (you)
    2. intentionally or recklessly (meaning you could see that your actions might destroy or damage the property but you continued anyway)
    3. destroyed or damaged
    4. property
    5. belonging to another person or belonging to the defendant (you) and another person.

    What is a defence?

    A defence is an explanation or reason that suggests you should not be found guilty of an offence.

    A defence may be:

    • a denial that you did what the prosecutor says you did, or
    • a legal excuse or justification for your actions.

    Common examples of legal defences include:

    • genuine accidents
    • honest and reasonable mistake of fact
    • self-defence or defence of another person
    • necessity or duress (where you are forced to do something to avoid something worse happening)
    • you had a legal right to do what you did.

    Icon - alertWorking out whether you have a defence to a charge can be very difficult. You should get legal advice about the circumstances of your case as soon as you can.

    For more information about what happens after you are charged, see Responding to a charge.


    For answers to frequently asked questions, see Frequently asked questions. ​