Whenever you are charged with a traffic offence there is usually the scope to try and negotiate those charges with the police prosecutor or the Office of the Department of Public Prosecutions (“DPP”). This is known as case conferencing in Queensland.
For the purpose of this article, we will use two examples. One is an unlicensed driving charge, the other is a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle charge (“dangerous driving”).
Negotiations with the police prosecution unit or DPP are almost exclusively done by lawyers. You can of course self-represent yourself and negotiate with the prosecutor and prosecutors are always willing to listen to unrepresented people, however, most people simply don't have the skills to properly negotiate with the prosecutor as it is simply not skill that they have learnt or indeed would want or need to learn.
So let's first take the example of an unlicenced driving charge. Unlicenced driving carries different penalties depending on what exactly the unlicenced driving component relates to. For example, unlicensed driving charge at its worst can be a disqualified driving charge where a person has deliberately driven after the court disqualified their licence. In that case you are looking at a minimum of two years licence disqualification or it might be an unlicensed driving charge as a result of a licence becoming expired and you simply not realising it and that you drove on that expired licence and for that charge there is no mandatory licence disqualification.
Let's use the example of a demerit points suspension. That is where a person has driven whilst their licence has been suspended due to the accumulation of demerit points. This typically occurs where a person goes through their 12 (or 4 if a provisional licence holder) demerit points and then elects to lose their licence for three months or makes no election and is automatically assigned a three month licence suspension and then drives during that period. You will get a notice to appear in the Magistrates court on the unlicensed driving charge whilst the demerit points suspended. That charge carries with it a mandatory disqualification period of six months and there is no work licence or special hardship licence available for this charge. The ability to negotiate with the prosecution unit over the charge is a critical factor.
Negotiations are an informal process referred to amongst lawyers and prosecutors as case conferencing. It is not specified how case conferencing or negotiations need to take place. However, typically it is either face to face, over the phone or where the lawyer sends written submissions to the prosecutor to consider.
In the case of the demerit point suspension, given that there is a mandatory six months disqualification, what typically happens is the lawyer would seek to try and reduce the unlicensed driving (whilst demerit point suspended) charge down to a lesser charge of unlicensed driving charge that does not carry mandatory disqualification periods. Now there are a number of factors that need to go into whether or not the prosecutor would accept that reduced charge and a person’s traffic history is one of the main factors. Other things to look at is the need for that person to drive and exactly why their licence came to be suspended. For example, if you elected to lose your licence for three months and drove, then the prosecutor is less likely to agree to reduce the charge than if you had gone through your demerit points, not realised this and you had received an automatic three months suspension from Queensland Transport because you did not elect a good driving behaviour period.
What would typically happen is if the charge is reduced or withdrawn then on the next court date or on the first date if the first court mention date has not occurred yet the police prosecutor would seek to amend the current charges to that reduced charge or if they are withdrawing the charge they will offer no evidence in regards to the charge and the court will dismiss the charge and the client is free to go without any punishment.
Lets take a look at another example, that is dangerous operation of a motor vehicle (“dangerous driving”). This is a serious charge. It is a criminal charge as opposed to a traffic offence and carries with it the real risk that you will lose your licence for at least six months and possibly much, much longer.
Case conferencing often occurs once the police prosecutors brief (or most commonly known as the QP9) is provided to you or your lawyer. The QP9 will set out what the police prosecutor intends to tell the court happened, including the alleged driving and how that driving is alleged to be dangerous.
Negotiations or case conferencing with the prosecutor tends to look at trying to get that dangerous driving charge reduced to careless driving. A dangerous driving charge carries with it a minimum of six months disqualification if no one was seriously hurt or if there is no alcohol or drugs involved. A person found guilty of dangerous driving can also not apply for a work licence or special hardship licence. Careless driving on the other hand is a less serious charge, it is not a criminal offence it is a traffic offence and carries with it no mandatory disqualification. The court can still choose to disqualify a persons licence for a careless driving charge but handled correctly the court typically would not record a disqualification. Other areas of negotiation might be that the police won’t be able to prove that it was our client that was driving the vehicle or that there was some other legitimate reason for driving as they did. So you can see that negotiations and case conferencing in regards to dangerous driving is critical and if carried out successfully can save a person from losing licence for at least six months.
If you need any advice on a traffic related charge and have a court appearance in any South East Queensland court we can help you. We can be contacted on 1300 952 255 seven days a week. Our website is at www.drivinglaw.com.au