Clarity Law

Specialist Criminal Law Firm Queensland
Thursday, 28 September 2023 16:37

Legal Win – Successful Acquittal in Magistrates Court Trial

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Jacob Pruden

Recently, I represented a client as solicitor-advocate in a Magistrates Court trial. Solicitor-advocate means I prepared the case and represented the client in court myself, without the aid of a barrister. A Magistrates Court trial means rather than having a jury decide the facts and a judge decide on the law, it was a Magistrate alone deciding both. After the prosecution called its evidence and closed its case, I made a “no case to answer” submission. This submission was successful, and both charges against the client were dismissed.

 

Some Fundamental Legal Principles

The Queensland system of justice assumes a defendant in a criminal case is “innocent until proven guilty.” Whilst we have seen recent challenges to this fundamental principle in cases of “trial by media”, thankfully, this principle still stands in law.

As the defendant is presumed innocent, the Queensland system of justice requires that the prosecution proves the charges against the accused person. This is called the “burden of proof”.

The way the prosecution proves a charge is by presenting evidence. Not all evidence is admissible, meaning not all evidence will be allowed by the judge or magistrate. The magistrate may disallow evidence if it does not accord with the ‘rules of evidence’, or because it would be unfair to the accused to allow the evidence to be admitted. Objecting to the admission of evidence can be a powerful way for the defence to limit the prosecution case.

The prosecution must prove the charges against the accused “beyond reasonable doubt”. That is, the magistrate or jury must be left with no reasonable doubts about whether the charges against the accused have been proved. If they do have reasonable doubts, then the defendant must be found ‘not guilty’.

For the prosecution to prove a charge against an accused person, they must prove each “element” of each offence. Each offence in Queensland law has one or more legal elements which must be proved to establish proof of the charge. For example, for the prosecution to prove a charge of armed robbery, they must prove:

  1. The defendant stole something.
  2. At the time of, or immediately before, or immediately after, stealing it, the defendant used or threatened to use actual violence to any person or property.
  3. At the time, the defendant was armed with a weapon.

In this example, if the prosecution were able to prove that the defendant stole something from a person, but they could not prove that violence was used or threatened, then they could not prove the charge. Notice, the question is not specifically whether the accused did anything wrong in general, the question is whether he committed the specific offence that he is charged with.

 

Legal Argument

The reason I have explained the above principles is because I had to rely on all of them to get the charges against my client dismissed. Most criminal trials are decided on the facts, not the law. In this case, however, the law became an important factor in the outcome.

I cannot be too specific about the details of the case for reasons of confidentiality. But in general terms, the case was decided on a fairly complex legal argument involving: the legal meaning of circumstantial evidence, the legal meaning of intent (intent being an ‘element’ of the offences), the admissibility of evidence, the legal meaning of ‘damage’, whether the prosecution could prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, and the legal test required for a “no case to answer” submission to succeed.

 

Case Strategy

How did I know what points to argue? By having a clear case strategy.

Before the trial started, I knew I was going to make a ‘no case’ submission. My case strategy relied on the prosecution’s mistakes and their weak evidence. I knew roughly what the evidence would be in advance because the prosecution must disclose their evidence before the trial. Everything I did in the trial was aimed at minimising the prosecution evidence by making objections to the admission of evidence and not asking witnesses many questions. The prosecutor did not get a damaging conversation between my client and a witness into evidence. The prosecutor made a mistake. By the close of the prosecution case, the evidence they had was weak enough that I argued they could not prove their case beyond reasonable doubt, and therefore there was no prosecution case for my client to respond to.

After a complex legal argument, the magistrate agreed, and dismissed the charges.

Once you cut out the legal jargon, the main reasons we won were:

  • I had a clear strategy.
  • I capitalised on the prosecution’s mistakes.
  • I never lost sight of the fact the prosecution must prove the charges.

Always remember: the defendant legally is not required to prove anything. He or she is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

 

Conclusion

What I have written may come off as hard to understand. That’s an unfortunate by-product of the complexity of our legal system, and why expert legal representation is so important: when your future is on the line, you need experienced and expert legal advocates. You need people in your corner who understand the legal system and use it to your best advantage.

Read 142 times Last modified on Friday, 29 September 2023 16:49
Jacob Pruden

Jacob is a former barrister and now criminal defence lawyer with over 8 years experience appearing in courts throughout South East Queensland representing clients charged with criminal offences.