A policeman has appeared on my doorstep and told me I am under arrest. What should I do now?
You have the right to remain silent. So, be silent. Do not answer any questions put to you. Tell the officer your name, address, and date of birth. Except that, the only words to come out of your mouth are: “I want to speak with a lawyer”. Contact us any time of the day or night on our 24-hour hotline 0800 LET ME GO.
The police officer will try and get you to talk. Expect it. They will try and dissuade you from getting a lawyer — it will take a while, the phones are busy, you don’t need one, make a statement first. Ignore it. Your lips are padlocked shut and only your lawyer has the key.
The police are telling me that I should make a statement or do a video interview. What do I do?
You do not, for ANY reason, make a statement to the police. The police are not your friends. They are not schoolteachers, and this is not after-school detention. You do not get credit for being honest and “owning up” early. While you may get a lighter sentence for a guilty plea — a guilty plea and making a statement are NOT the same thing.
But I’m innocent, why shouldn’t I make a statement? I have nothing to hide.
When dealing with the police, you are out of your depth. Fact. It is the Police’s job to find someone to charge with a crime. It is the Prosecution’s job to secure a conviction. Unless you’re an experienced criminal defence lawyer, they will have the edge on you.
There is virtually no advantage is making a statement to the police. Even if you decide to make a statement, then it’s still best to wait for your lawyer, who can help you organise your thoughts more clearly before you speak with the Police.
I declined to make a statement, then the Police told me I am being charged with [a crime]. Is it because I didn’t make a statement?
No — if you made a statement, you would have given the police more evidence with which to lay a charge. When trying to charge you with an offence, the police are trying to build a fire, and a statement is just more fuel.
I’m back home now. The Police have told me I’m being charged with [a crime] and I have a Court date next week. What do I do now?
Find a lawyer to represent you, and meet with them as soon as possible. Contact us through email, text, or on our 24 hour helpline 0800 LET ME GO to set up an appointment.
How do I know which lawyer to pick?
Remember that you will be working closely with your lawyer for anywhere between four months to two years (Yes, that’s how slowly the wheels of justice actually turn). So make sure that you pick someone you trust and get along with.
Bottom line, meet the lawyer you’re interested in and trust your gut.
OK, I’ve found a lawyer that I like. How much is this all going to cost?
Lawyers are always reluctant to discuss prices off the bat. Imagine calling a mechanic and saying, “My car is broken. How much to fix it?”
Having said that, it’s important to have some ballpark figures, so you know you’re not getting ripped off. For a summary matter that doesn’t go before a jury, prices will vary between $2,000 and $10,000, depending on the amount of work required. For an indictable matter that goes before a jury, prices will vary between $8,000 and $40,000, depending on the amount of work required.
Remember, the upper-end of those price scales refers to when matters are taken to completion, like a defended hearing before a judge or a trial by jury. Individual components have lower prices. While fixing the whole car may cost $20,000 — the broken headlight is only a small fraction of that.
That’s a lot of money. How do I go about paying it all?
If you have the money upfront then lawyers will commonly insist that the sum be placed in a neutral trust account, which they withdraw from (with your consent) as the work is completed.
Otherwise, a deposit and monthly repayments tend to be the way that most financing is handled.
How long will this whole thing take before it’s over?
How long is a piece of string? It depends.
As a rule of thumb, indictable matters take longer than summary matters. Defended matters (pleading not guilty) take longer than undefended matters (pleading guilty).
Summary matters will usually last a minimum of three months and rarely take longer than a year. Indictable matters take a minimum of six months but usually stretch for up to two years.
I hear a lot about a “discharge without conviction”. What is that all about?
A discharge without conviction is when you plead guilty to an offence, but the Court declines to note the conviction on your record. Police diversion, a discharge without conviction, and being found not guilty all have the same effect. The offence disappears as if it never existed in the first place.
Many lawyers will tell you that getting a discharge without conviction is difficult or rare. To most people, it certainly seems hard to believe that the Court would let you walk off unpunished after pleading guilty to a crime.
In practice, however, a discharge without conviction application (known as a “one-oh-six” in the business) is one of the easiest and surest ways of avoiding a criminal conviction — provided your lawyer knows what they’re doing. Obviously, it’s not quite that simple either but it’s a frequently overlooked option that we consider one of our prime specialties.
I’m scared about my sentence. Am I going to go to jail?
Many people would have you believe that a prison sentence is just around the corner for every offence under the sun. But that is simply not true.
If you are charged summarily and it is your first offence, the risk of your going to prison is virtually zero.
If you’re charged indictably, with an end sentence of less than three years, home detention is most likely. An end sentence of more than three years means possible prison time.
Before you start worrying, remember that “end sentence” is not the same as the “maximum sentence”, in the same way that net profit is not the same as revenue.
What’s the difference between summary offences and indictable offences?
Summary matters are dealt with in front of a judge alone, no jury. Summary matters are less serious and attract less severe sentences.
Indictable matters are dealt with in front of a judge and jury, as you frequently see on TV. Indictable matters are more serious and attract sentences that may include imprisonment.
You will also often hear of charges being “laid summarily” or “laid indictably”. For many offences, the Police have the option of choosing whether they charge you with the summary version or the indictable version. It’s completely up to them, and really just depends on how they view the seriousness of the offending.
With many summary charges, you also have the option of electing trial by jury, which also puts you in the indictable jurisdiction.
What does it mean to be “charged” with an offence?
Being charged with an offence means that the Police are claiming that you did something that was illegal at the time. At this point, it is just an accusation — nothing has been proven. The criminal justice process is the procedure by which that “charge” is proven to be true or untrue.
What is the difference between a defended hearing and a jury trial?
When you plead not guilty, the matter will eventually go to a defended hearing if it’s summarily laid, or a jury trial if its indictably laid.
A defended hearing is held before a judge only, no jury. The prosecution will call witnesses, and the defence will cross-examine them. After that, the defence may call witnesses, and the prosecution will have their turn cross-examining. Once all witnesses have been heard, the judge will make a decision as to whether you are guilty beyond all reasonable doubt, or not guilty.
A jury trial is virtually identical, except that the jury determines whether you are guilty or not guilty.
Neither is better than the other. Though there are strategic reasons to opt for one or the other where the choice is available.
The police took some of my stuff when they arrested me. Can I get it back?
Yes — unless the property has been seized as evidence of a crime. In some cases, such as mobile phones and computers, you can have the property back after they’ve extracted all the electronic evidence from the device.