Commonly asked questions about serious offences

Serious offences include but are not limited to:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Serious drug offences
  • Violent offences
  • Serious sexual offences
  • Robbery

Possible defences to criminal charges include but are not limited to:

  • Self defence
  • Duress
  • Necessity
  • Intoxication (this may have a bearing on the offender’s intent)
  • Honest and reasonable mistake
  • Automatism
  • Mental illness

If you have been charged with a serious indictable offence, then the issue of where your case will be heard is of paramount importance. This is because lower maximum penalties apply in the Local Court, which is lowest level court in NSW. A lawyer can be of great assistance in negotiating with the police or prosecution, to give your case a better chance of proceeding in the Local Court.

However, some serious offences are “strictly indictable”, meaning that they are considered too serious to be dealt with in the Local Court. Strictly indictable charges can only be dealt with in the Supreme or District Court.

Deciding how you will plead is the most important decision you will make. Pleading guilty means that you accept responsibility for the offence charged, and a penalty will be imposed by a court, which reflects the seriousness of the offence and your personal circumstances. Once you plead guilty it is very difficult to retract. If you plead not guilty, there will be a hearing in court, where a magistrate, judge or jury will determine your guilt or innocence.

Remember that there is a presumption of innocence, so if you believe you did not commit the crime, or that the charge is excessive, a “not guilty” plea will mean that the prosecution has to work to prove your guilt. It is extremely important to seek legal advice before you plead, as you may not be aware that a lesser charge is more appropriate for the offence you committed, or that there is a defence you can offer for committing the offence.

An early plea of guilty may have advantages, such as:

  • You receive a lesser sentence
  • You don’t have to endure court for so long and the matter is dealt with quickly
  • You may save money in legal costs

But it may also mean that:

  • You cannot appeal the conviction
  • You will pass up the chance of being acquitted
  • You end up with a criminal record

If you plead not guilty to a criminal charge, and your guilt or innocence is to be determined in the District Court or Supreme Court, then a trial will be held, typically before a judge and jury. If any of the evidence is in dispute, pre-trial argument will usually be heard by the judge before the jury is selected. Once a jury is selected, lawyers for the prosecution and defence will have an opportunity to introduce the case. After that, the prosecution must present its evidence.

In our criminal justice system, it is a fundamental principle that the accuser must prove its case. In other words, you are not guilty of any offence unless and until the prosecution presents evidence which is sufficient to prove the offence, beyond any reasonable doubt.

A defendant is not obliged to present any evidence to answer a criminal charge against himself or herself. However, in practice, if a defence is available to you, then evidence of this defence would then be presented, on your behalf, to strengthen the case for acquittal.

Once the prosecution and defence have presented their evidence, the jury is asked to “deliberate” (discuss the case in private) and reach a verdict. If you are found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment you can appeal. It is rare for bail to be granted once you have received a prison sentence (this only happens in exceptional circumstances.)

Our experts

Postcode

News

Drone laws in Australia evolving slower than drone technology
22 Aug
With the boom in sales of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, aviation authorities ...
Read More
Three years’ jail for revenge porn under new laws in NSW
02 Aug
In June 2017, new laws were passed by NSW parliament to crack down on the despicable trend...
Read More
Section 32 mental health treatment plans – NSW Supreme Court clarifies requirements
06 Jul
In a recent appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Supreme Court has clarified...
Read More
Why contempt of court matters, even for government ministers
30 Jun
The independence of the judiciary from the political arm of government is a fundamental ...
Read More
Importance of rule of law in democratic society
21 Jun
Whether or not you agree with the recent judicial review of US president Donald Trump’s ...
Read More
Rear view cameras in highway patrol vehicles and the so-called “2 km rule”
15 Jun
Several matters heard recently in the local courts have featured the rear view in-car ...
Read More
“Excessive self-defence” and use of force to protect yourself against an intruder
14 Jun
It’s everybody’s nightmare. A person breaks into your home and threatens your family. ...
Read More
Think our laws are dumb? Wait till you hear the one about the Witchcraft Act 1735
09 Jun
Do you ever feel caught out by a silly or obsolete law? If so, consider yourself lucky ...
Read More
Smartphone data and proof of innocence or guilt in criminal trials
08 Jun
Seven years ago, in 2010, I defended a 60-year-old male client who was falsely accused of ...
Read More
Celebrity criminals and the proceeds of crime – why crime doesn’t pay
06 Jun
Celebrity criminals such as Schapelle Corby may be offered huge amounts of money to tell ...
Read More
Forfeiture rule: why you can’t kill your parents and then inherit their estate
23 May
A NSW woman is campaigning to change the law so that her brother who killed their parents ...
Read More
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
03 May
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law. ...
Read More

Why Stacks


No hidden fees
Nobody likes surprises on their bills, so we take the time to agree with you exactly what our work will cost before we do it (not after!)

Deep expertise
Our lawyers aren’t ‘general practitioners’, they’re experts in their chosen fields of practice (many are Accredited Specialists)

Practical advice not legalese
We provide clear, practical advice, in plain English, so that you can make decisions with confidence


Over 25 local offices
Our local offices are owned and operated by friendly, local professionals, who are proud and active members of the communities they serve

Real client care
Genuine care for clients has been at the core of our practice since the first office was opened by ER Stack on the NSW Mid-North Coast in 1931

Progressive practice
We invest in technology and systems so that our services are always cost effective and clients are in control of their own legal affairs

More about our promises

Get help now

It's easy to get help, just tell us your story and we'll help you understand all your options. If you’d like us to help, we’ll agree exactly the work you'd like us to do up front so that you can be certain about our costs.

Your enquiry is completely confidential.

Fill out this form and one of our experts will contact you
within one business day

By submitting this form you agree to the terms of our Privacy policy

Need help? We’re here to assist