I have been given an on-the-spot fine. What do I do?
If you have been given an on-the-spot fine (penalty notice), don’t ignore it. Failure to pay fines can have serious consequences, including recovery action by the State Debt Recovery Office, having a drivers licence suspended or some other conditions placed on it.
If you want to go to court to defend the matter, you should get legal advice
I've received a Court Attendance Notification. What do I do now?
Instead of giving you an on-the-spot fine, the police may give you a Court Attendance Notice (CAN).
If you have been charged with a criminal offence you will receive a CAN either on the spot or in the mail. The CAN tells you what offences you have been charged with, and when and where you have to appear in court.
You must respond to the CAN, so take note especially of when you are expected to be at court.
The CAN will also list your personal details as well as the details of the prosecutor. If the CAN contains incorrect personal details (like it misspells you name, etc), it is still a valid notice.
I have been charged. What do I do?
It may be a good idea to make some notes about what happened around your arrest. Any notes should be in your own words and should detail any conversations you had with witnesses or the police. You may ask any witnesses to write down what they witness, in their own words. You and any witnesses that you may have are obliged to give truthful information and evidence.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence it’s a good idea to seek legal advice, even if you intend to represent yourself at court, to speak about the offence, any defences and the court process (including possible outcomes).
Keep all the documents you receive such as the CAN, police facts sheet, and any bail undertakings if you are on bail. It may be helpful to obtain one or more character references. You will need to bring these documents with you to court on the day.
What is written notice of pleading?
If your matter is a minor crime and you are not on bail, you may have the option of submitting a ‘written notice of pleading’ rather than going to court. A written notice of pleading sets out how you intend to plead (guilty or not guilty) and what you want the court to take into account in deciding the matter. The notice must be submitted at least 7 days before your court date and the court may still require you to come to court.
Whilst you may be able to submit a written notice of pleading most lawyers will advise that you put yourself in a better position of having the court listen to you by attending court in person and telling the court your view of what happened, giving information about your personal and financial situation, your character and any other factors the court will take into account in deciding the matter.
I have been charged with possession. What will happen?
You will be given a Court Attendance Notice (CAN). The CAN may be given to you on the spot or sent to you via the post later on.
Please see ‘I have been charged what do I do?’ if you received a CAN for more information.
When can I be charged with supply?
Supply has a very broad definition and includes selling and distributing drugs, agreeing or offering to supply, or keeping or having drugs in your possession for supply. No drugs actually need to change hands between you and another person.
If you are caught with a ‘traffickable quantity’ of drugs you can be charged with supplying drugs unless you can prove that you were not going to sell or distribute the drugs to anyone.
The maximum penalty for supply varies from a $220,000 to $550,000 fine and/or 15 years to life in jail.
What are the criminal charges and sentences for different amounts of possession of different types of drugs?*
* Sentences/penalties will depend on whether the offence is dealt with summarily (objectively minor) or on indictment (objectively more serious). This table is more general, seek legal advice for specific issues.
What happens at the first court date?
Your first appearance at court will be a ‘mention’. At a mention the court will ask you whether you wish to plead guilty or not guilty or where you may seek an adjournment to obtain legal advice. An adjournment is where the matter is put off to another day.
If you plead guilty at the mention the court will usually sentence (that is, impose a penalty) on you the same day.
If you plead not guilty at the mention the court will set the matter down for a hearing and possibly give directions about how the matter is to be conducted.
What happens at a hearing?
At a hearing the prosecution must prove the elements of the offence to the correct standard of proof. The court will want to hear from you and any witnesses you may have and any prosecutions witnesses. As noted above, witnesses must give truthful evidence to the court.
You may be able to successfully defend against the charge, but as noted above you should seek legal advice when charged with a criminal offence, well before going to court. You can, of course, be found guilty by the court.
How does a court sentence me?
The court has discretion to decide upon a number of different penalties if it finds that you are guilty of the offence. Such penalties may include imprisonment (where applicable), community service orders, good behaviour bonds, fines, and a finding of guilty but no conviction recorded (called a ‘section 10.’)
You should get legal advice about the penalties that are available in your particular circumstances.
What if I don’t attend court?
If you don’t go to court when you are expected to, and had not given the court an explanation for your absence, or if you don’t submit a written notice of pleading when you should have, the court can deal with the matter in your absence and would be likely to deal with you more harshly than had you been there.
Whilst you can apply for an Annulment in these circumstances, you will then have to appropriately comply with any court notices or directions for your matter.
Appeal from the Local Court
If you believe you should not have been found guilty of the offence, or you believe the penalty was too severe, or both, you should seek legal advice urgently. You must lodge an appeal from the decision of the Local Court within 28 days of the decision.
Can I have my case moved to another court?
If you are pleading guilty, contact the court and ask for your case to be transferred to a court closer to you. You should send your request in writing by fax to the court. Follow up with the court about any decision to move the case.
If you are pleading not guilty, the court will usually not transfer your case to another court. This is because the case needs to stay where the offence took place so that witnesses, for example, the police, can attend the hearing.
A case cannot be moved to a court outside NSW.