What happens in court?
If you are thinking about representing yourself in a drink driving case, talk to the duty lawyer at court on the day of your court case. Ask them to help you get a copy of the documents that the prosecutor will use in court. These documents are:
- the complaint or charge (lists the offence(s) you have been charged with)
- the precis (sets out the alleged facts of the case—what the police say happened)
- your criminal record (both NT and interstate), if you have one.
Ask the duty lawyer to check these documents with you and to advise:
- whether or not to plead guilty
- what penalty to expect
- the minimum period of licence disqualification
- whether you should admit all of the alleged facts and your criminal record.
Pleading not guilty
If you do not admit all the alleged facts, the prosecutor may agree to change them so that your case can be finished on the day. If the dispute is more complex or serious, or if you are thinking of pleading not guilty, you should ask the duty lawyer to get your case adjourned so that you can try again to settle your case. If you cannot settle your case by agreement, it must be set for a contested hearing of the evidence. It usually takes a few weeks before the court has time for a contested hearing.
You can represent yourself if you plead guilty. The prosecutor will read out the charge(s), and the judge will ask what you plead. You should say ‘guilty’. The prosecutor will then read out the alleged facts. When asked, you should say ‘I admit the facts’. The prosecutor will then hand the judge your criminal record. When asked, you should say ‘I admit the record’. You do not have to tell the court about any prior convictions that the prosecutor has not alleged.
You can then tell the judge something about yourself and what happened when you were charged. Politely answer any questions the judge asks you. The judge can think about what you say when they decide your penalty. If relevant and helpful, mention the following things:
- Your reason for driving at the time you were charged.
- Whether your control of the vehicle was impaired for some reason.
- Whether there was an accident, injury or loss (including any injury or loss suffered by you).
- Your co-operation with police.
- Your character, criminal record and driving record.
- Whether you have pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.
- Your attitude to the offending and sense of remorse.
- Whether losing your licence would cause you hardship.
- Whether recording a conviction against you would cause you hardship.
- Your financial circumstances and whether you can pay a fine.
You can use notes to help you talk to the judge. Call the judge ‘Your Honour’. It is also helpful to give the judge signed and dated character references. Address references ‘To the Sentencing Judge’. The references should comment on your character. They must also mention your offending and if you have been to court for similar trouble before. Before you say if you are guilty or not guilty, give a copy of the references to the prosecutor to check if the prosecutor will agree to you using them. For more information about writing a reference for a criminal court matter, read our Guide to writing a reference fact sheet.
Other sections in this guide:
The information in this guide is current at February 2019. This content is provided as an information source only and is not legal advice. It is correct at the time of publication, but laws change. If you have a legal problem you should seek advice from a lawyer.