Receiving a court attendance notice for drink driving can be a daunting experience. For most people, this will be their first contact with the court system and it’s hard to know what to expect.
Understanding what will happen at each stage of the process can take some of the anxiety and element of the unknown out of the experience.
Court Attendance Notice
Drink driving cases are dealt with by magistrates in the Local Court.
The police will have given you a Court Attendance Notice. This document explains what you have been charged with and the details for your first court date. It will tell you which courthouse you need to attend and on what day.
If you are considering retaining a lawyer to represent you, this is the time to contact them. Speaking with a lawyer as soon as possible means that most options will still be available to you and they will have more time to prepare your case.
The First Court Date
The first court date is often a short, administrative appearance. The magistrate will want to know whether you’re pleading ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ and whether you need more time to prepare.
The police officers who issued the charge will not be present. Instead, a police prosecutor (effectively the police lawyer) will handle the case.
If you are pleading ‘guilty’ then you can choose to have your matter finalised on this first court date. The Magistrate will hear from you and decide what sentence to impose. You can read more about pleading ‘guilty’ below.
Often though, people who plead ‘guilty’ will ask for the case to be adjourned so they have more time to get ready.
If you plead ‘not guilty’ the magistrate cannot finish your case on the first court date. They will allocate a hearing date so that the police witnesses can attend to give their evidence, and to make sure the court has enough time allocated for the hearing.
If your case is going to be adjourned your lawyer can usually take care of it without your attendance. You will only need to attend this first court date if the case is going to be finalised on that day.
If you plead ‘guilty’ the magistrate will decide what penalties to impose. This is called ‘sentencing’.
You can either choose to be sentenced on your first court date, but often it is better to ask for an adjournment so you have enough time to prepare.
During the sentencing proceedings, the police prosecutor will give the magistrate a copy of the ‘Facts Sheet’ (which is the police’s version of what happened), your traffic record and your criminal record. It’s really important that you ask to see these documents before they are given to the magistrate. If there are any errors or things you don’t agree with, particularly in the Facts Sheet, you need to speak with the police about correcting them. Once they’re given to the magistrate, those documents are taken to be the truth about what happened.
You will also be given the opportunity to give the magistrate evidence to support your case. Before your court date, it’s a good idea to think about what you want to say to the magistrate about yourself, and whether you can obtain any evidence to prove it. For example, if you have a medical condition you might get a letter from your doctor. If you need to drive for work, you could ask your employer to write a letter.
Once the magistrate has read all of the paperwork they will give you a chance to speak and explain anything you’d like them to consider. After hearing from you they will announce their decision.
If you have a lawyer, they will take care of all the above steps for you. They will present all of your documents and speak on your behalf, so you don’t need to worry about what to say or do at court.
Pleading ‘Not Guilty’
If you plead ‘not guilty’ your case will be adjourned for a hearing date. The hearing date is usually several months away, and due to backlog at some courts, it may be close to 12 months away.
On the hearing date, you need to attend court with all witnesses and evidence to support your case. The prosecution will do the same.
The first step is for the prosecution witnesses to give their evidence. They will go into the witness box and tell the magistrate what they say happened. You (or your lawyer if you’re represented) will be given the chance to ask the witness questions (cross-examination).
After the prosecution witnesses have given their evidence, you will be given the opportunity to call your own witnesses and give evidence yourself. Whether or not you decide to do this will depend on how strong the prosecution case is. If the prosecution evidence is too weak to prove you committed the offence, then you may not need to tell your side of the story. However, if the prosecution evidence could be enough for a magistrate to find you guilty, then you might consider calling your own evidence.
If you give evidence, the police prosecutor will also be given the opportunity to cross-examine you and ask you questions about what happened.
After hearing evidence from both sides, the magistrate will decide the verdict. If they find you ‘not guilty’ that is the end of the matter. If they find you ‘guilty’ they will then proceed to sentencing.
Again, if you are represented by a lawyer they will take care of most of this process for you.
Once the case is finished hopefully you will have achieved the outcome you hoped for.
However, if you are unhappy with the outcome you can appeal against the decision. Your case would be referred to a higher court (the District Court) where a judge will decide whether they think a different outcome is more appropriate.
There are strict time limits for lodging an appeal. Usually, they must be submitted within 28 days after the magistrate made their decision.
It is a good idea to speak with a lawyer if you are thinking about appealing. They can help you decide how strong your case is and what your best options are.
If you have been caught drink driving and need the advice of a lawyer, please contact us at Ainsley Law. Our team of lawyers can guide you through your options.
Please call us today at (02) 8294 5697 or leave an enquiry.