Being charged with a criminal offence can be distressing. It is important to know one’s legal rights and obligations when it comes to criminal law matters.
What happens before you are charged?
Before a person (defendant/accused) is charged with a criminal offence, the police generally contacts the person to question him. This contact can either be through the telephone or a knock on the door. The police cautions the person by law and advises him/her that they are under arrest for the crime. This is when the accused is also given the right to stay silent. However, it is one’s personal choice to participate in an interview with the police which is recorded and becomes evidence in the criminal case. It is best to seek legal advice at this point.
After the police is satisfied that the offence is committed, a Court Attendance Notice is issued to the defendant. Depending on the seriousness of the charge and the defendant’s criminal record, the police decides whether or not to grant the person charged bail. If the police refuses bail, the person is taken into custody immediately.
What happens on the first day of court?
It is important to seek legal advice and ask a lawyer to represent you in court. In cases where bail is refused by the police, the lawyer representing the accused may make a bail application in the court for the person’s release. The success of this application depends on the circumstances related to the accused including criminal history, seriousness of the charge and strength of the police/prosecution case.
Where the bail has already been granted by the police, the accused’s lawyer would generally either plead guilty or not guilty to the offence. Each plea changes how the case proceeds in court.
What does pleading guilty/not guilty mean?
A person may decide to plead guilty at the first instance. It is important to seek legal advice on pleading guilty to a charge/offence. Pleading guilty means that the person is accepting the allegations made by the police. After pleading guilty, the matter generally proceeds to