Criminal law is a complex area of law. The criminal justice process works within a structured framework and aims to bring about three main outcomes;
- Individual deterrence against criminal offending;
- Community deterrence against criminal offending; and
- Punitive measures.
It is a fine line between wanting to simply deter the behavior from re-occurring and actually punish against the behavior depending on the severity. For some criminal offending, a minor punishment will rectify the behavior, however, for more severe offending, a punishments is required deter future behavior.
The below will discuss the different consequences that can occur as a result of criminal offending with specific examples highlighting the dangers of certain behavior’s. The scale in criminal law is wide and covers lower level offending such as traffic matters and non violent stealing offences through to more serious offending such as assault, grievous bodily harm and murder.
What Court Will Criminal Matters Be Heard In?
Criminal matters are split between two different courts depending on the seriousness of the offending. Summary offences are heard in the district or Magistrate’s court while Indicatable offences are heard in the Supreme Court. The key difference between these courts is that the Supreme court determines matters by judge and jury whilst the Magistrate’s court does not.
Indictable offences are more serious matters than summary offences as they usually relate to criminal offences which have involved a high level of violence or criminal activity. The process of determining guilt in these matters is high and it is measured again the test of “beyond a reasonable doubt”. An ordinary person must consider that the accused can be considered guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because the action in question is not one that a reasonable person would have made in the same situation.
At the heart of criminal law however, every accused is considered innocent until proven guilty.
What Factors Influence A Determination of Guilt?
For each criminal offence, a determination of guilt is made based on the evidence that is provided. For example a family violence offence may be determined based on medical and text message evidence which confirms that the accused struck the victim. If the evidence can ultimately prove that the offence occurred then the individual will receive a criminal conviction for that charge. Once an individual is convicted, they hold a criminal record.
Evidence can be made up of all forms however. There is witness or testimony evidence which comes from an individual providing evidence from the witness box orally. This will be considered in conjunction to written statements that witness has submitted. Oral evidence is not usually considered in circumstances where there has not already been a written statement made.
Documentation evidence such as legal documents, identification documents, police statements, etc will be relied on for their credibility depending on what they relate to. Video evidence can be used in certain circumstances depending on the factors by which that evidence came to be produced.
No matter the evidence, the process of how the evidence has been collected is important as it needs to follow strict evidence procedures to ensure there has been no tampering or evidence obtained illegally.
What Possible Outcomes Can You Receive for a Criminal Offense?
The severity of the sentence will be dependent on the severity of the charge and the surrounding circumstances. criminal penalties or punishments are designed to deter both the individual and the community from committing the offence in the future but they do need to be proportionate to the criminal action.
The following are possible sentencing outcomes that you could receive:
- Monetary fine;
- Suspended Sentence;
- Community Corrections Orders;
- Community Service;
- Term of Imprisonment;
You may receive either a singular sentence or a sentence which combines more than one of the above. For example, a 3 year term of imprisonment with 18 months suspended.
If you receive a sentence requiring community service or a corrections order then you may also be subject to other conditions such as completion of diversion programs, drug and alcohol counselling, etc depending on what factors attributed to your offending.
When considering family violence offences for example, it is common to require the perpetrator to undertake rehabilitation in an attempt to prevent further offending.
What Factors Influence Sentencing?
There are many factors which may influence the type of sentence you receive however, depending on the charge, this may be legislative. The legislation dictates that there are particular minimum and/or maximum sentences to be given for specific offending.
This is particularly relevant for traffic offences or driving offences as the legislation sets out the punishments specifically and there is little room for discretion.
On a wider scale however, sentencing is impacted substantially by the following;
- Whether the accused was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time?
- Whether they a criminal record or prior convictions?
- Whether their prior convictions are in relation to the current charges?
- Whether they possess a recent criminal record or there has been a gap in between?
- The severity of the offending?
- Whether criminal justice will be served if a lesser penalty is imposed?
- Whether there is a risk to an individual or the wider community?
- Whether there are any personal circumstances or mental health conditions to be considered?
Each factor will then be weighted according to what the trial judge thinks is fair when a decision is made regarding sentencing. Depending on the situation, your lawyer may be able to write and submit an impact statement explaining the hardship you may face if a certain sentence is imposed and how this may affect your personal or family circumstances.
Ultimately, the prosecution agree to leave the charge of stealing and agree to a plea as follows;
- Joel pleads guilty to the charge of stealing and records a conviction;
- He pay a $450 fine;
- his sentence is wholly suspended for a period of 18 months.
Joel agrees and the matter is settled at the next appearance.
How Can A Conviction Affect Me?
If you have a recorded conviction then it can prevent you from being able to be involved in school or extra-curricular activities regarding your child. An application for a Working With Vulnerable Persons card can be denied on the basis of a prior criminal conviction or convictions. It almost acts as an extra penalty to whatever sentence you received.
Certain employers will not hire you if you have a criminal conviction and this can make finding work challenging. For example, you are likely to have a job application denied in the aged or disability care sector in most states if you hold a criminal record.
A national police check will identify whether you hold any convictions so it is not even worth lying on the application form. Usually a refusal is due to a wider community safety issue so that there is a decreased chance of harm falling to vulnerable classes.
As is the saying, the punishment does not always fit the crime as sometimes even the smallest of infractions can carry severe consequences. If your matter relates to a driving or traffic offence then of course your penalty may prevent you from being able to drive for a period which can cause strain in employment, family and general everyday tasks.
If your conviction requires any length of jail terms then your release could see you banned from certain licenced premises, area of your state or from coming into contact with certain individuals. This can cause housing, employment and general everyday difficulties which affect your ability to support yourself.
No matter what conditions the court impose, they are designed to be punitive to prevent the behavior re-occurring.