Pleading Not Guilty in South Australia
In South Australia, criminal matters are either dealt with in the summary jurisdiction (Magistrates Court or Children’s Court) or on indictment (in the Supreme Court or District Court). When a person pleads not guilty to offences in the lower courts, the matter will proceed to a contested hearing where the prosecution will try to prove the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This article outlines the processes and considerations involved when a person is pleading not guilty in South Australia.
Brief of evidence
If an accused indicates their intention to plead not guilty in South Australia, the prosecution will be required to serve a copy of the brief of evidence on the defence. This is a summary of all the evidence that the prosecution will rely on at the contested hearing. It will typically include witness statements and a copy of the recorded interview, if the accused completed one, with the police. It may also contain CCTV footage, DNA evidence, expert evidence, child forensic interviews (CFIs) and medical evidence.
The defence should review the brief of evidence carefully. If it appears that the prosecution case is strong, it may be advisable for the accused to change their plea to guilty. The court gives a sentencing discount to a person who pleads guilty at an early opportunity in recognition of the fact that they have admitted their wrongdoing and saved the court and prosecution the time and expense of running a contested hearing. If a person is likely to be found guilty after a hearing, they should consider pleading guilty so they can take advantage of this discount.
Once the brief of evidence has been served, the parties must attend a directions hearing. This is a court event where the parties let the court know how the matter is progressing.
The prosecution must indicate if there is any more evidence that has to be disclosed, how long the hearing is predicted to take and any orders it is likely to seek.
The defence must indicate how the accused will plead to each charge, which issues are in dispute, whether the accused intend to rely on an alibi, how long it estimates the hearing will take and any orders it is likely to seek.
The court may make orders and set deadlines for when one or both parties must disclose information to the other. It may then set the date for the contested hearing, or, if there are further administrative matters to resolve, set a date for a further directions hearing.
The day of the hearing
On the day of the contested hearing, the accused must enter their plea. The prosecution then calls evidence and the defence cross-examines each of the prosecution witnesses. The prosecution then makes submissions and closes its case.
The defence then has the opportunity to call witnesses. The accused may give evidence if they choose to do so. The prosecution may then cross-examine each defence witness. The defence then makes submissions and closes its case.
The magistrate will then deliver his or her judgment. This may occur on the same day as the hearing, or the magistrate may adjourn the matter if they require time to further consider the issues raised. If the accused is found guilty, the magistrate will determine the appropriate sentencing orders.
When should a person plead not guilty?
There are a number of reasons it may be advisable for an accused to plead not guilty.
Firstly, and most obviously, a person should plead not guilty if they did not commit the offence alleged.
Secondly, a person should plead not guilty if they committed the physical acts that are alleged, but have a legal defence – for example, they hit someone in self-defence or carried out the conduct because they were facing an emergency situation.
Thirdly, a person may decide to plead not guilty if they believe that the prosecution will be unable to prove all the elements of the offence or will be unable to prove that the accused was the person who committed the offence. This may be because there were no eyewitnesses or because there are inconsistencies between the statements of different witnesses.
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