Court processes: How driving offences are dealt with
Overview of court processes for driving offences
Driving offences are classified in the same way as other offences under the criminal justice system. The least serious type are “infringement offences,” which don’t give you a criminal record. Then there are a number of different offence categories of greater seriousness, numbered Categories 1, 2 and 3, and these are dealt with by the standard criminal court processes.
Here’s a summary of the different categories:
- Infringement offences – These include common traffic offences such as parking offences and most speeding offences. For these you’re usually given an “infringement notice” – for example, a speeding ticket, a parking ticket, or notice of a lower-level breach of the breath or blood-alcohol limits. You only have to go to court if you want to challenge the notice. Infringement offences don’t result in a criminal record.
- Category 1 offences (Fines or community-based sentences only) – Unlike infringement offences, Category 1 offences give you a criminal record, but you can’t be imprisoned for them, only fined, or given a community-based sentence like community work. For these the court process differs from more serious offences (see below) in that you don’t have to go to court if you don’t want to. Instead you can enter your plea (guilty, not guilty, or a special plea) simply by sending a written notice to the courts.
- Categories 2 and 3 (Jail term) – These are offences for which you could be sent to prison, and they’re all dealt with by the standard criminal court processes. An example is driving while disqualified, for which you can be imprisoned for up to three months. For Category 2 and 3 offences you’ll be given a summons requiring you to appear in the District Court, and you’ll then tell the court if you’re pleading guilty or not guilty (called “entering a plea”).
Note: For a range of driving offences the police have the option of either issuing an infringement notice or prosecuting the offence through the courts as a Category 1 offence. What they do will depend on how serious the particular incident was. For example, unsafe passing can mean a $150 infringement fee if dealt with as an infringement offence, but you can be fined up to $1,000 (and you’ll get a criminal record) if the police prosecute it as a Category 1 criminal offence and you’re convicted in court.
For more information about the different categories of criminal offences and the processes that apply to them, see: “The criminal courts”.