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The court considers you innocent until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This means the police have to give evidence to the court to prove beyond a reasonable doubt you are guilty of the offence.
You need to get legal advice to:
Take these steps to plead not guilty:
If your matter needs to be dealt with in the district or Supreme Court you will need to attend a committal callover. If you do not have the partial brief of evidence when you go to the committal callover, the prosecutor may provide you with it at court. If you would like the police to provide you with a specific statement or material (for example CCTV footage), you will need to write to them and ask them for this. If this is the case, you may ask the magistrate at the committal callover to adjourn your matter for three weeks. The prosecutor will provide you with the material within two weeks.
The police will prepare a full brief of evidence that could contain things like witness statements, video footage and medical evidence. You should write to the police prosecutor and ask for a copy of the brief of evidence at least 14 days before the next mention date.
Get legal advice if you have trouble getting a copy of the brief.
If your matter is being dealt with in the magistrates court you will have to prepare for, and go to a summary callover before the hearing. This is when you tell the court you are ready to go to a hearing.
At the summary callover the magistrate will ask you if you are ready to go to a hearing. They will ask:
The magistrate will want to know:
If both parties are ready to proceed, the magistrate will confirm the hearing date and may direct that any outstanding material be delivered to you.
Here is a checklist of things you should do before the hearing.
You need to get legal advice once you have received a copy of the brief of evidence.
You need to know what the police must prove in court. Get the lawyer to explain the elements of the offence the police have to prove.
Carefully read the brief of evidence and highlight the parts you agree with and the parts you disagree with or you can show to be wrong.
You need to consider this option carefully and get legal advice.
You do not have to give evidence. You could decide to only cross-examine the police witnesses to try and raise a reasonable doubt in the magistrate's mind.
If you decide not to give evidence, you can question the police and the police witnesses about the evidence they have provided. But you cannot then address the court and give your different version of events unless it is in evidence.
If you want the magistrate to hear your version of events, you will have to go into the witness box or 'take the stand' and give your evidence under oath or affirmation. The police will then be able to cross-examine you.
Write down your version of the events and what you want to say to the magistrate — see the information the court may want to hear in the sample document information for the court(PDF, 86KB). It can help to practise in front of family or friends.
The magistrate makes their decision based on the evidence presented during the hearing. This means you or your witness must give your evidence on the day of your hearing.
Evidence you give to the court can be:
When preparing your evidence, remember:
Make two copies of any documents or exhibits you want to use. You will have to give the original copies to the magistrate and the other copies are for the the police prosecutor and yourself. When you hand the exhibits to the magistrate, you say "I seek to tender this document Your Honour".
Make sure you tell your witnesses when they have to come to court.
If they refuse to come to court you could subpoena them. This involves arranging for a subpoena called a Summons to witness. This is a document the court can issue demanding a person come to court and give evidence. It can also ask a person to produce relevant documents.
You will need to get legal advice about how to do this. If you have to subpoena a witness it will cost money.
You can still change your plea to guilty up to, and on the day of your hearing.
You may be found guilty even though you are pleading not guilty.
The magistrate might decide the police have proved the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt.
This is why you need to think about what you would say to the magistrate about any sentence they give you if you are found guilty.
The magistrate will read the charge and ask if you plead guilty or not guilty. You plead not guilty.
The magistrate will then ask the police prosecutor to present their case against you.
Before anyone provides evidence to the court, they will be asked to swear an oath on a holy book or affirm (promise) to tell the truth. It is a crime to give false evidence.
All witnesses must wait outside until they are called. A witness can't hear another witness's evidence or the questions you ask other witnesses.
The police prosecutor will call each of the police witnesses and ask each witness questions.
Take notes about what the police witnesses say so you can remember what questions to ask when cross-examining them.
After each police witness finishes, you have the right to cross-examine them by asking questions about the information they have given to the court.
Your aim is to show the police evidence may not be correct. Remember, the police have to prove their case 'beyond reasonable doubt'.
You need to ask questions about things you disagree with, especially if you are going to call witnesses who will give a different version of events. You need to put that version of events to the police witnesses so they can comment on it. You need to show any differences between their story and your story.
The police prosecutor can ask their witnesses more questions to clarify anything said in your cross-examination.
If the prosecutor asks a new question that is unrelated to anything raised at the start of the hearing or in cross-examination, you can object. The magistrate will then decide if the prosecutor can ask that question.
Once the police prosecutor has finished presenting their case against you, the magistrate will ask if you want to give evidence yourself and if you want to call any witnesses to give evidence.
If you think the prosecution have not proved their case, you can tell the magistrate there is "no case to answer". If the magistrate agrees,the case ends. If the magistrate does not agree, the trial will proceed as normal.
If you decide to give evidence:
When giving evidence, it is important to make sure what you say is relevant and to the point. Present your case in a business-like manner. Even though you might be upset or nervous about the situation, emotional outbursts will not help your case.
Once you have finished giving evidence, the police prosecutor can cross-examine you.
You can then have a chance to clarify after the police prosecutor has finished cross-examining you.
You call each of your witnesses to come before the court to answer your questions. For example you might say, "I call Jane Cherry".
Sometimes you may not have any witnesses except yourself.
You should ask your witnesses questions about what they saw, did or heard. For example:
The witnesses should answer in their own words. You should not ask leading questions that suggest the answer. For example, "I didn't push Joe, did I?"
After you have finished questioning each witness, the police prosecutor will ask them questions about their evidence. This is called cross-examination.
When the police prosecutor has finished their cross-examination, you can clarify any matters with your witness by asking them further questions. This is called re-examination.
Once you and the police prosecutor have closed your cases, you each sum up your case to the magistrate. This is called making a final submission.
The aim is to highlight the parts of the evidence you believe support your case and why the magistrate should find you not guilty.
The police prosecutor will highlight the parts of the evidence supporting their case and why the magistrate should find you guilty.