What happens if I plead NOT guilty?

Firstly, lets look at pleading guilty:

If you plead guilty to a charge in the local court, and you enter this plea on your first return date (the first time you have to appear in court), you generally get the benefit of a sentencing discount of 25%.  What happens next depends on the Magistrate and the quality of the sentencing submissions made by you or your lawyer.

Pleading guilty is the fastest way to dispense with a criminal matter before the local court.

But what if you plead NOT-guilty?

You (or your lawyer) go along to court, on the first return date, and enter your plea of not guilty.  In most matters (Not all. But many) the Magistrate then sets a timetable of events:

  1. Brief to be served – this is a compilation of the police’s evidence, they are using to prove their case. It is the witness statements, the police statements, some other elements (maybe CCTV, or medical reports, or photos/videos) and the Magistrate generally orders a date by which this has to be provided to the accused (or their lawyer).
  2. The Magistrate then orders the accused to Reply to the Brief – which is a statement setting out how many witnesses will be needed for cross examination, an estimate of how long the hearing will take, and some more technical things – like if interpreters or audio/visual links are needed.
  3. The Magistrate will order both the prosecution and accused back to court for another mention to check the parties are ready to proceed to hearing.
  4. On this next return date a hearing date is set.
  5. You turn up at the hearing, on the appointed date, with any witnesses you will call in your defence, and you must also be ready to cross-examine the police witnesses, and examine your own witnesses.  (Each side may, or may not, have witnesses – often the defence doesn’t.)  The Prosecution (police) witnesses will be examined by the Police Prosecutor, and you will then have the chance to cross-examine these witnesses.  Then you may call your defence witnesses (if you have some), and you conduct an examination of them, and then the Police Prosecutor will cross-examine your witnesses.  (This is where people generally want to have a lawyer assist them.  Examination and cross-examination rules are governed by the Evidence Act, and it can be tricky, depending on your defence.)
  6.  At the conclusion of the hearing, the Magistrate will generally (not always, but generally) hand-down their decision, right then and there!

This is the short hand version of what to expect.  It is NOT legal advice but it serves as a guide to how local court matters generally proceed when you enter a not guilty plea.

This is NOT legal advice.  This is designed to take some of the mystery out of the law for ‘google-lawyers’.  I repeat – it is not legal advice.  But we hope it helps.

If you need a Lawyer and want us to represent you, the Local Court Lawyers are experts in all local court matters. We come to you, anywhere in NSW, but our head office is on the north coast: Coffs Harbour, Grafton, MacLean, Ballina, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby, Murwillumbah or Tweed local courts.


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