Criminal law is different to civil law as it refers to the legal management of criminal acts such as murder, assault, theft, drink driving, fraud, firearm offences, manslaughter, terrorism, sexual offences and cyberbullying.
The complex legal process involves the arrest of a person suspected of a crime along with the charging, bail, trials and imposing of penalties.
One of the biggest decisions when faced with criminal charges, is whether to hire a lawyer or self represent in court. Remember, a criminal offence is very serious and can have severe consequences such as imprisonment. It is a huge risk to take on the task of meeting all the legal matters involved without the help of a lawyer.
Hearings and trials are often lengthy, complex and defending yourself in a courtroom can be very stressful. Lengthy adjournments can mean long term delays which are a strain on finances and mental health.
A magistrate or judge will be understanding with people who choose to manage their defence but cannot help with objections, questions or conducting of the criminal case. This process is only suited to a person who is not intimidated by the legal procedures and is prepared to spend a great deal of effort and time to research the case.
Frequent changes and amendments to the law present challenges for self representation unless the defendant has an up to date understanding of the Criminal Code and relevant Crimes Acts and Sentencing Acts. Without representation, it is possible to be found guilty when innocent.
For people with limited finances and no access to Legal Aid, their only option could be to manage their legal matters. This is thought to be the main reason why there is a rising number of self representations of criminal matters in Australian courts.
Television crime dramas are particularly influential as they can give a false sense of confidence to self represent. Watching episodes of Perry Mason or other television shows which simplify portrayals of the justice system may cause an underestimation of the seriousness of a case before the court. Perry Mason syndrome is claimed to be a significant factor for people representing themselves in court rather than being represented by a lawyer.
There is also a tendency for the media to oversimplify coverage of trial proceedings.
Benefits of Hiring a Criminal Lawyer
There are obvious advantages to hiring an experienced criminal lawyer for either advice or representation. A lawyer can help you to understand the legal jargon, handle complex paperwork and prepare a defence for the best outcome.
A criminal lawyer can assist with securing either a reduced penalty or even avoidance of a conviction.
Arrest and Interview
Being knowledgeable about legal rights and procedures is important at the time of arrest, and during the formal interview with police. At this time advice from a criminal lawyer can be crucial as people often feel overwhelmed in such a high pressure situation.
A properly prepared and presented bail application is vital because if the court refuses bail the defendant must remain in custody while awaiting trial or finalising of charges.
Engaging a criminal lawyer who knows the issues to be addressed will reduce the likelihood of bail being denied.
Criminal trials are often complex with daunting rules for evidence and cross examination. Witness cross examination can involve interruptions and objections from the prosecution.
Criminal lawyers are skilled at presenting legal arguments and framing questions for witnesses. They also know how to identify any weakness in the case by the prosecution and if there is any evidence which will be inadmissible for the trial.
A Guilty Plea or Conviction
After a guilty plea or a court conviction, a sentencing hearing is held. Criminal lawyers understand the Sentencing Act and how it applies to individual cases. This means they are in the position to help to avoid or minimise terms of imprisonment or other harsh penalties.
Making the Choice
As you can see, although self representation in a court is a person’s right, it does come with risks and a lot of hard work. Engaging a criminal lawyer can dramatically change the outcome.
There are circumstances where this is not possible, but at the very least receiving legal guidance along the journey is recommended.