By "criminal law" we mean here all those alleged offences that are not traffic incidents.
This is definitely the best position to be in - charged with a first offence instead of your tenth. Generally the opportunities for getting you off without a conviction are greater. It can often be done without having to fight the case though to a trial. You may be eligible for a relatively informal process known as diversion or it might well be that we can plea-bargain your case and resolve it at what's known as a status hearing.
What is Diversion?
It's a process where the police and the defendant agree that if the defendant completes an undertaking then the charge will be withdrawn. For example it might be that you promise the police that you will attend counselling for an addiction problem, do some community work or make a charitable donation etc. It is generally only possible to get diversion once in your life.
What is a Status Hearing?
A status hearing is a relatively informal court hearing in front of a judge. Such a hearing usually occurs several weeks to several months after the first appearance date. The objective is to see if the case can be resolved without going on through to a much more formal 'real' court hearing called a 'defended hearing' which would probably be several months later again.
Patrick likes to call the status court "the deal court". It's often a very suitable forum for plea-bargaining the case. A plea bargain is a deal between the police and the defence which can then be put before a judge ideally at a status hearing. The objective is to have the judge approve the deal. Status hearing judges are often more predisposed to favourable outcomes than other judges.
Have a previous conviction?
If you do have previous convictions don't despair. Frequently very good outcomes can be achieved. Indeed a status hearing can often be the perfect place to resolve a non-first offence case
So anyway what about the exact charge I'm facing?
The Crimes Act and other acts list offence after offence. There are alas too many to go into here. Call us for an assessment of your situation. But here are some...
Frequently Asked Questions
I was arrested for 'male assaults female' but the female now wants the charge dropped. Won't the police just drop it?
Highly unlikely. At least not at an early stage of the proceedings. We usually have to take these cases through the process some way to get a successful outcome.
The police have charged me with burglary and I didn't even take anything. How can this be?
Because the offence of burglary is all about having an intention to commit a crime before one enters the premises. There can be all sorts of crimes that a person might allegedly intend to commit - not just theft.
The police found cannabis in my house/on my person and charged me with possession for supply. Why? It was just for me.
Probably because of the amount. Over 28 grams (one ounce) and they tend to think "drug dealer".
Isn't it true that a conviction will only last on my record for ten years and then be wiped?
We're afraid not. Convictions are permanent and will be there for the rest of your life.
Will a conviction prevent me travelling?
This depends on the conviction and where you want to go. We are most often asked about the situation in entering the United States. Most New Zealanders can enter the U.S. on the "visa waiver program" and are not required to seek a visa. But you will need to approach a U.S. consular office before you travel to the U.S. if you have been in trouble with the law. For the exact wording in the U.S. Immigration Service form on this topic call us.
Will a conviction stop me getting a job?
It depends on the conviction, the job you want and the employer. Prospective employers will very often ask you to disclose any previous convictions. You can refuse to do so but that's usually going to take you out of the game before it's started. Convictions for dishonesty offences - for example theft, theft as a servant (i.e. while working as an employee in a previous position) or fraud are going to have, we suggest, a seriously adverse impact on your chances.
Surely the best thing to do is to throw myself on the mercy of the court at the first appearance. The judge will appreciate me coming clean so quickly and he'll be kind. He's got to understand?
Judges vary enormously in temperament, understanding, sophistication, personal belief and generosity - just like everyone else. Your chances of getting the sort of judge you might prefer are better if you don't end it all at the first appearance. Moderate sentencing judges are more likely to be found in the status hearing court further into the process.
By the way a first appearance is not an occasion on which to give evidence and get your witnesses along - if you want to fight it out you will have to keep going through the system. See below...
I want to fight it out and have a real court case - what are my options?
You will probably have the option of fighting your case out at a "defended hearing". This is a court case where the judge listens to all the evidence and then makes a decision. You may also have the option of having a jury trial in front of a judge and a jury of 12 ordinary people. Here the judge makes rulings and keeps the case on course but the decision on whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty is left to the jury. With some charges there is no option and they have to go to a jury trial.