This section has information to help you when you go to court for a minor criminal offence.
A crime occurs when a person breaks a law and commits an offence against the community in general or 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(sentence) you should get.
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:
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, you should get
Who charges you depends on the type of criminal offence you commit and where it occurs. For example, you could be charged by:
The person who runs the case against you in court is called a 'prosecutor'. They must 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.
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:
A defence is an explanation or reason that suggests you should not be found guilty of an offence.
A defence may be:
Common examples of legal defences include:
Working 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.
If you suffer from a mental illness or intellectual disability, you may be able to apply for an order under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990. It is often called a section 32 application. The application is so that the magistrate can decide:
You can ask a magistrate to consider a section 32 application at any time during the court proceedings.
You will have to ask a psychologist or a psychiatrist to prepare a report showing that you suffer from a mental illness or intellectual disability, and recommend a support plan. It can take several weeks to get a report. You may be able to get financial help to pay for the report.
If you need help, you should get legal advice as soon as possible.
For more information about what happens after you are charged, see
Responding to a charge.
State Library NSW - Defend yourself: facing a charge in court
Legal Aid NSW - Going to court: guide to the Local Court for defendants
Legal Aid NSW - Have you been charged with a domestic violence offence?
Legal Aid NSW - Have you been charged with a serious criminal offence?
Legal Aid NSW - What is a Section 32?