Criminal hearings    

 

These are the basic steps that you can expect during a criminal hearing in the local court.

The case is called into the courtroom and the charges are usually read out to the defendant (person charged with the crime). The defendant is asked to plead guilty or not guilty. What happens next depends on the plea.

Guilty plea

If the defendant pleads guilty, the matter proceeds to sentencing.

  • The prosecutor, who represents the state, will give the magistrate a copy of the police facts and a copy of the defendant's criminal or traffic record

  • The defendant will tell the magistrate about anything that is relevant to the matter as well as his or her personal circumstances

  • The magistrate will decide on the penalty or sentence

In local court hearings where there is a guilty plea, the case is likely to be finalised that day.


Not guilty plea

If the defendant pleads not guilty the matter will be listed for a hearing. This is usually on another date.

In some cases, additional dates are required before a final hearing date is given. This is usually to give the police time to complete a 'brief of evidence', which is the witness statements they will be using at the hearing.

The judicial officer will give police a date by which they have to serve the brief of evidence on the defendant, and also what is called a 'reply date'.

After reading the brief of evidence, the defendant must come back to court on the reply date to confirm whether he or she is still pleading not guilty (or whether they now want to plead guilty). If the defendant confirms the not guilty plea, a hearing date will be set.

On the day of the hearing, the:

  • prosecutor, who represents the state, will outline the police case and present evidence; this usually takes the form of calling witnesses

  • defendant or their lawyer can question the witnesses about their evidence; this is called cross-examination

  • defendant or their lawyer can then outline the defence case and call their own witnesses

  • prosecutor can question or cross-examine the defence witnesses

  • prosecutor and the defence then address the court

  • magistrate makes a decision based on the evidence

If the defendant is found not guilty of the offence, he or she is discharged and is free to leave.

If the defendant is found guilty, the magistrate decides on the penalty. However, in serious matters the magistrate may ask for a pre-sentence report before deciding on the sentence.