What to do when charged with a serious crime

What to do when you have been arrested and charged with a serious crime?

It has been a particularly hard week at work. You get home and start arguing with your wife. You have a beer to relax and before you know you have had too much to drink and are behind the wheel of your car. You see some bright lights, hear an enormous crash and the next thing you know the police are handcuffing you and pushing you inside a police cruiser.

You do not remember what happened. But you do know that you had no intention of hurting anyone. However, a grandfather and his three grandchildren are dead. A mother and father are childless and a grandmother has lost her life partner. You have been charged with dangerous driving occasioning death. This offence carries a possible jail sentence of 14 years.

You are now faced with legal consequences that will most definitely have long lasting, if not life-long consequences just for making one stupid mistake.

So what do you do when you have been arrested and charged with a serious crime?

What are my rights when arrested for a serious crime?

Getting arrested, especially if it is for the first time, can be very overwhelming. You do not want to say anything you do not mean or will regret down the road. So the first thing you need to know is that according to Australian law you have a legal right to silence. This means you have the right to remain silent when questioned prior to or during legal proceedings. Basically you cannot be compelled to incriminate yourself. The only information you have to give police is your name, address and date of birth.

Note that for some serious offences certain exceptional bodies such as the Australian Crime Commission and NSW Crime Commission do have the power to compel you to answer questioning. If you do not the court could form an “unfavourable reference against you” (Law Society of NSW).

When you should provide information relevant to your defence- “Special Cautions”

In certain circumstances (in very serious criminal offences) it may be in your best interests to answer questions asked of you by the police. Failure to disclose certain information may be detrimental to your case further down the track. The police must give you a special caution in front of your lawyer first. Your lawyer will then explain what it means. Refusing to answer questions under these circumstances can hurt your case at trial.

When you have been charged with a serious crime, you have the right to speak to a criminal defence lawyer. The minute you are taken into custody is when to ask for legal representation. The police may say they just want to ask you a few questions and “you are not in trouble” and that “you don’t need a lawyer if you have nothing to hide”. Quite often this is a tactic to lure you into a false sense of security, with the true intention is to interrogate you without you first obtaining legal advice. You would be surprised how often we are told by our clients that this is what they have been told by Police!

You do not need to answer any questions the police ask you without a lawyer present.

It is often best to request for a criminal defence lawyer first and not to say anything until your lawyer arrives. Some people think that they can convince the police to let them go or will get processed quicker if they speak to them without a lawyer present. What you say can have serious legal consequences and may be hard or next to impossible to retract. A good criminal lawyer knows what information will and will not help your case.

If you are facing a serious crime such as assault causing serious injury (grevious bodily harm), serious domestic violence, robbery or drug supply, you have a lot at stake. Serious criminal charges could lead to hefty fines if not long term prison sentences. Therefore it is not worth trying to fight the charge on your own.

Whilst you may find lots of information online about representing yourself, it is advisable that you do not. However, lawyers can be expensive, so quite often you may not be able to afford a private lawyer. You can often make an application for legal aid, and in some circumstances you can choose that your lawyer be a private lawyer funded by the Legal Aid Commission.

The law is very complicated and takes years of training and experience to understand. Legal processes such as arraignments can happen in a blink of an eye. A lawyer knows how to navigate the legal system to help you get the best possible outcome. He or she will represent you and will speak on your behalf.

Bail Applications for Serious Offences

Quite often, if you have been charged with a serious criminal offence that carries a possible jail sentence, you will need to hire a good lawyer to make an application for bail for you at the NSW Local Court that you are required to appear before.

A lawyer might also need to do things like “show cause” in order for you to be released on “bail” until you are required to appear in court.
A few things to remember when you are arrested and charged with a serious crime. Do not argue or become physical with the police. Be as polite as possible. If you obstruct the police or resist arrest you could face more charges.

Do not say anything unless a lawyer is present to protect your rights. Anything you say in front of the police can be used against you. That includes anything you say on the phone or to other offenders while in custody. If you are bail refused and put in remand, the last thing you should be doing is speaking to other inmates in jail about your case!

Getting arrested and charged with a serious crime is very stressful and the outcome can have significant consequences. Therefore the best thing to do is let a professional handle your case for you. If you do not have a lawyer there are many ways to find one including contacting Legal Aid NSW or the Law Society of NSW.

Call LY Lawyers if you or a loved one have been charged with a serious criminal offence, 1300 595 299.