Serious criminal charges are called indictable offences. Offences include:
- drug trafficking
- sexual offences
- dangerous driving where a person is seriously injured as a result
If you have been charged with an indictable offence it will say this on the charge sheet in the ‘Details of the charge’ section.
Going to court
You must go to court
You must go to court each time your case is listed if the:
You must go if you are:
The court process can take a long time. It has a number of steps. This means you may have to come back to court several times until your case is finished.
When to get legal help
- answer questions about the indictable process
- talk to you about your charges and the strength of your case
- ask for you to make decisions
- speak on your behalf to the court and to the prosecution.
Even if you want to plead guilty, legal advice is important – a well-prepared case could mean a lighter . There are no duty lawyers at the County or Supreme courts. You will need to get legal advice before your court .
Going to the Magistrates’ Court
What is a filing hearing?
What is the hand-up brief?
You should get the hand-up brief 42 days before the mention. The hand-up brief has statements and your record of interview (what you said to police when you were interviewed by them). The witness statements may be from your witnesses or the prosecution’s. The hand-up brief will also tell you when you first come back to court. You can talk to your lawyer about what is in the brief.
If you admit that you broke the law, you may decide to plead guilty early on. The court treats a guilty plea as a sign that you are sorry and will give you a lighter penalty. You can plead guilty at any time.
Committal mention hearing
At this hearing the magistrate will want to know:
A number of things could happen next. It depends on:
- what you say about the charges
- how the prosecution sees the case
- how much more preparation your case needs.
You may need more time if you are not sure or if you are pleading not guilty. For example, you may need time to confirm legal aid funding or to negotiate with the prosecution.
The magistrate may put off the case to another committal mention or a committal case conference.
What if I am definitely pleading guilty?
If you are pleading guilty and your charges can be heard in the Magistrates’ Court, you can ask the magistrate to hear the case and decide a penalty. This may happen on the same day or another date. Even if you plead guilty the magistrate may say the charges are too serious and your plea hearing must be in the County Court or Supreme Court. Ask your lawyer.
What if I want to plead not guilty?
Depending on what you say about your charges and the , you may ask the magistrate to list your case for a contested committal hearing in the Magistrates’ Court. The magistrate will want to know if you wish to question any of the prosecution’s witnesses. There are rules about who can be questioned and what they can be questioned about. If you do not want a committal, the magistrate may send your case straight to the County Court or Supreme Court to be listed for .
Contested committal hearing
What is a contested committal hearing?
At this hearing your lawyer will ask the witnesses questions.
This lets you know more about the prosecution’s case and the strength of the witnesses’ evidence. The magistrate will consider your case and decide if there is enough evidence for your case to go for a hearing before a jury.
If the magistrate decides there is enough evidence, you will be ‘committed for trial’. This means your case will be listed for a trial in the County or Supreme court.
Going to the County or Supreme court
This is the first step. You will be given an indictment, which is a document setting out the details of the offences the police have charged you with.
If you have told the court you are pleading guilty, you will be given a date to go to court for a plea hearing. On that date the prosecution will read a . Your lawyer will explain how the offence happened and tell the judge about you and your situation. The prosecution and your lawyer will talk to the judge about a penalty. Witnesses may give evidence.
The judge may put off your case to think about the penalty. The judge might cancel your bail and put you in custody.
Pleading not guilty
Directions hearing or case conference
If you are pleading not guilty, the court will list your case for a directions hearing or case conference.
At the directions hearing (or other date) you may be arraigned. This is when the charges are formally read out to you in the courtroom and you are asked if you plead guilty or not guilty.
The judge can make different orders at the directions hearing including:
The aim of the directions hearings and case conferences is to:
- explore whether the case can be resolved without a trial
- reduce the number of issues you and the prosecution disagree on. For example, you may agree to plead guilty to a less serious or the prosecution might agree to say that things happened in a different way from what is set out in the brief.
If your case cannot be resolved, the judge will decide legal arguments, before a jury is chosen.
There will be a final directions hearing before the trial starts.
The trial is a hearing before a judge and jury. The prosecution presents its case against you. They do this by calling witnesses to give evidence. Then you can present your case in defence – this is your version of things. It may include calling witnesses or giving evidence yourself. The judge will tell the jury members about what their role is.
You may be found guilty of some or all charges, or not guilty of some or all charges.
Being found not guilty is called an acquittal.
What happens if I am found guilty?
What if I disagree with the judge and jury?
- being found guilty
- the penalty.
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
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Reviewed 11 April 2022