A crime is conduct that breaches the criminal law. A person committed the offence of stealing, for example, when they take money from a bag without permission (s 398 Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld
) (Criminal Code)). Police investigate the crime and may lay charges against the suspect. Once charged, the police and/or the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions
then prosecute the person in court.
A person who is found guilty or pleads guilty to a criminal offence is punished. The level of punishment is decided by the presiding judge or magistrate, within the legislative bounds set by the state. Punishment includes penalties such as:
- community service
- By contrast, when a person commits a civil wrong, the police are not usually involved in the investigation of the conduct, and the person is not prosecuted by the state.
- The person who alleges that the wrongful conduct has occurred institutes private proceedings against the wrongdoer in court. Generally, the remedy for a civil wrong is a court order requiring the wrongdoer to pay damages (money), although other remedies may be available.
Innocent until proven guilty
A core principle of the Australian criminal justice system is that a person is presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. An accused person must be acquitted of an offence if there is any reasonable doubt about their guilt in the mind of the jury (or judge or magistrate).
The prosecution have the burden of proof. This means that an accused person does not prove they are innocent of the crime. Rather, the prosecution must prove the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The right to remain silent
The right to remain silent is another important principle of the Australian criminal justice system.
A person is not required to answer any questions that are put to them by a police officer, regardless of whether they have been arrested or not.
The major exception is that a person should provide their name and address if asked by police; not doing so may constitute an offence.
It is important that a person who has been arrested understands that, beyond providing their name and address, they have the right to refuse to answer all questions or participate in an interview.
Anything a person says to police, whether in a formal interview or not, may be used in evidence against that person at their trial. Making ill-considered, hasty or careless statements to police in the heat of the moment, during an interview or when questioned at the scene and without legal advice can cause great harm to a person and their legal position.
The fact that a person has relied on their right to silence cannot be used against them at their trial. This means that a prosecutor cannot point to a person’s silence as evidence of their guilt in any way.
In court, a defendant is not obliged to give sworn evidence in their own defence.
There are some circumstances when a person may be required to give evidence which may implicate them. One example is at a coronial inquest or at crime commission hearings.
A criminal record may cost you your career, family, financial aid, and many more, so professional legal representation is of utmost importance in criminal matters. At Aria Lawyers, you can rely on our team of professionals. Let us help you defend your rights.
Even law-abiding citizens can make a regretful momentary decision, landing them in a criminal matter which can arguably be one of the terrifying periods of their life.
Knowing your rights is critical in criminal matters.