South Australia has recently introduced a new method to notify people who need to attend the Magistrates Court for a criminal law SA summary offence. Instead of receiving a summons you may receive a phone call from the police advising of the time and date, this is then followed up with a text message. This is designed to shorten the time between being charged, and appearing in Court. This new system is referred to as a Court Attendance Notification, and is part of the Early Resolution Court, which is designed to assist offenders who have been charged with a simple summary offence.
Other summary and indictable offences, in which the penalty can be a fine, a good behaviour bond, community service order, or a prison sentence up to 5 years, will be heard in the Magistrates Court.
For serious criminal law SA indictable offences such as murder, robbery and rape, or where the term of imprisonment can be greater than 5 years, you will first be served a Summons to attend the Magistrates Court. After the committal hearing in the Magistrates Court, the matter will be transferred to either the District Court, or Supreme Court depending on the seriousness of the offence.
There are also specialist courts that deal with offenders with particular problems, or issues that need to be addressed. These include the Drug Court, the Youth Court, the Domestic Violence Court, Court Diversion (mental impairment) Program, and the Aboriginal Court.
Penalties and Sentencing in Criminal Law SA Cases
If you are convicted of a criminal offence in South Australia, the courts when deciding on a suitable penalty must take into consideration precedents from past similar cases, and laws set by parliament. They can also consult pre-sentence reports, and victim impact statements. The various factors that must be considered include the circumstances of the offence; past criminal history; personal circumstances of the victim, and the offender; any injury, loss or damage as a result of the offence; whether any early plea of guilty was entered; the need to protect the community; the deterrent any sentence may have; and the possible rehabilitation of the offender.
Types of penalties that can be imposed include fines, good behaviour bonds, community service orders, and imprisonment. There are guidelines in place that state that imprisonment must be considered as the last resort after all other possible options are evaluated.
Ex Parte Convictions and Appeals in Criminal Law SA
In some circumstances a Magistrate can convict you in your absence, at the request of the Prosecutor. This is called an ex parte conviction. If this does occur you can file an application to set the conviction aside, but this must be done within 14 days. The Magistrate will take into consideration the reason why you failed to attend court, and will list the matter for re-hearing if the prosecutor agrees, if the order was made in error, or in the interests of justice. If you believe your sentence was too severe, or you want to dispute the conviction, you can lodge an appeal in the Supreme Court. The Appeal is not a re-hearing of your case but must be based on a question of law.
Appeals from the Magistrate Court, and District Court, on summary or simple indictable matters are determined by a single Judge of the Supreme Court. Appeals from serious indictable offences from the District, or Supreme Court, are heard in the Court of Appeal and decided by a Full Court of three Judges.
Criminal Law Legislation SA
Criminal law SA is governed by the either the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, or the Summary Offences Act 1953. These Acts outline the types of charges that can be laid for certain offences, and provides the minimum and maximum penalties. The Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act 1988 sets out the types of penalties available to the Court. The Act also provides guidelines as to the circumstances surrounding the offence, victim and offender that must be taken into consideration when deciding on an appropriate penalty.