Getting charged with a crime can be one of the most stressful, embarrassing and scary moments in a person’s life. Regardless of guilt, being charged brings a great deal of scrutiny and pressure on an individual.
Even the coolest headed people can find they are overwhelmed by the situation and become paralysed with fear or uncertainty. This is perfectly normal, especially for people who have never head dealings with the police before.
No matter what the circumstances of the charges are there are some general rules you should follow in order to safeguard your rights and avoid conviction. Let’s take a step-by-step look at what you should do if you are charged with a criminal offence.
Dealing with the police
When charged with a criminal offence a police officer will likely be the first person you interact with. No matter what opinions you might have about the police, you should always be polite to them, especially when they have you in custody.
Police are simply doing a job and likely don’t have a personal interest in your or your circumstances. Being polite and cooperative is the only thing that will do you any good in this situation.
Even if you know that the police have wrongfully accused you or are somehow behaving illegally themselves, there is nothing to be gained by antagonising them. The best course of action is to simply remain silent and calm until you get in touch with a lawyer.
While you have a right to remain silent, there are some facts that you must reveal to police if they ask you such as:
• Your full name
• Your date of birth
• The address of your primary residence
• The address of your business
In some circumstances relating to specific crimes, there may be more information that you are required to provide police with. Failure to provide information police are entitled to is its own offence with consequences of fines or imprisonment.
Any information beyond what the police are legally entitled to does not need to be revealed to them. Ideally, a police officer should not ask for any more information than the law requires.
This is why it is important to have an understanding of your rights. Some police officers will probe you for information that may be used against you in court.
If a police officer does ask you a question that you don’t need to answer, politely refuse and reaffirm that you would like to speak to a lawyer first.It is advisable to make a request for a lawyer in writing if possible so as to create evidence that you did ask for legal representation.
Speaking to your lawyer
Most lawyers will begin by telling you not to answer any police questions and ask you what you may have already revealed. They will be able to take this information and advise you on the best course of action.
When it comes time for the police to interview you, your lawyer should be present in the room with you. The lawyer is not allowed to answer questions for you but they will make sure that the interview is conducted legally and that your rights are protected.
If it seems likely that you will be formally charged with an offence, there are a number of key questions that a lawyer should be able to answer for you:
• Is it likely you will be granted bail?
• If bail is likely, will there be bail conditions that prevent you from doing essential life activities, such as work?
• What are the immediate legal implications for you and your family?
• Does your place of work need to be informed of the charge?
It’s important to work out answers to these questions as early as possible so as to avoid the stress and expense of appealing bail conditions.
Bail is a system that allows the court to release you back into society on the assurance that you will attend court for your summons. Failing to attend your summons will lead to your arrest.
The likelihood of being granted bail depends on a number of factors including:
• The seriousness of the crime
• The likelihood you will re-offend
• The strength of the evidence and the likelihood you will attempt to flee justice
• You criminal history and history with court attendance
If bail is granted it will normally come with conditions that you need to satisfy. If the conditions are unreasonable, such as a curfew affecting your ability to work, your lawyer can help you appeal these conditions in order to get a better deal.
While the information here is brief, it provides you will the basics with which you can navigate the early stages of a criminal charge. Ultimately, your chances of acquittal or a reduced sentence will depend on the available evidence and the quality of the legal defence that you secure for yourself.