POLICE CAUTIONS: WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
- By Naomi Hill –
Have you ever heard of a person being let off with just a caution after allegedly breaking the law? Cautions have been around for a long time, but in South Australia they were previously only used when dealing with youth offenders or, on a very limited basis, adults. But since December 2016, South Australia has implemented a caution scheme for adults who have committed low-level offences. Here’s how it works.
Young offenders and police cautions
It has long been recognised that if all young offenders were charged with offences, the already strained youth justice system would probably grind to a halt. It’s also recognised that youth and inexperience sometimes result in bad choices being made and crimes being committed. When the crime isn’t serious, the law allows police to deal with the situation by issuing a caution.
Cautions are basically warnings from police not to repeat the conduct.
Police may issue an informal caution, meaning that no further action is taken and it won’t go on the young offender’s permanent record. Or they may decide to give a formal caution if they think the matter is more serious, but not serious enough to warrant putting the young offender through the court process. A formal caution will become part of the young offender’s criminal record. Police will require the young offender to make a formal undertaking, for example:
- Paying compensation to the victim of the crime.
- Engaging in community service work.
- Making a written apology to the victim.
Regardless of whether the caution is informal or formal, the young offender’s parent or guardian must be present when it is issued. If the police decide to caution the young offender, they can’t take any future action against them for that offence. But a formal caution can be used at a later time as evidence that the offender committed that offence.
Once the young offender turns 18 years of age, the formal caution can no longer be used as evidence.
Adult police cautions
From December 2016, police cautions have operated for adult offenders in circumstances where the offence committed isn’t serious. Cautions can’t be issued for major indictable offences, aggravated offences, other violent offences, sexual offences or some drug offences. But many summary offences can be resolved with a caution.
There are two primary motivators for the introduction of police cautioning:
- To reduce the burden on the police and court system. Previously, people charged with even the most trivial of offences would have to go to court. Now, police can deal with those matters and everyone can move on.
- To ensure that punishment is proportionate to the crime committed. Sometimes, the offence isn’t serious and so it doesn’t make sense to send the person to court.
It is reported that in the first six months of the initiative, almost 3000 people were cautioned rather than being charged with a criminal offence.
For an adult, the caution won’t form part of their criminal record, but it will be recorded on the police database, meaning that police can consider this caution if the person reoffends.
Criteria for cautions
Police can’t hand out cautions whenever they like. There are criteria that must be met, including:
- The offence must be minor.
- The caution must be appropriate for the offence.
- After investigating the matter, police must have determined that there would be a good chance of conviction if person were charged with the offence.
- The caution must be approved by a police sergeant.
Police must also take into account:
- The person’s criminal history (if any).
- Any previous cautions.
- Whether the victim of the crime believes that there should be a caution.
- Whether the police believe that there should be a caution.
- Whether the offender has expressed remorse for the offending.
- The seriousness of the offence.
Some examples of situations in which police have issued adult cautions include:
- An 86 year old man with no criminal history who stole groceries worth $7.85. He was in distress after the recent death of his wife. He later paid in full for the groceries.
- A 76-year-old-man who took clothing from a church charity bin. He later admitted the theft to police. He had no criminal history and was sorry for what he had done.
- An 18-year-old-woman who was drunk at a public event. She was arrested after swearing at police and other people. She had no criminal record.
Cautions have also been issued in traffic offences, such as failing to wear a seatbelt or speeding offences in which the speed limit has been exceeded by only a few kilometres per hour. For minor traffic offences, cautions may be used instead of issuing expiation notices and demerit points.
What does it mean?
It makes sense for cautions to be issued in some circumstances, especially if a person is driven to break the law because of their own dire situations. The scheme has already relieved the burden on South Australia’s criminal justice system.
But it should be remembered that a caution doesn’t excuse criminal conduct. If a person is cautioned and then repeats the conduct, the police may decide not to caution them again. In these situations, there may be an inevitable trip to Court.
In traffic matters, if you’ve been cautioned, usually there won’t be an expiation notice issued for that traffic offence. But if you are issued with an expiation notice when you believe that a caution would have been more appropriate, you will need legal advice immediately. Even if you have been arrested or reported for an offence, an experienced criminal defence lawyer can negotiate with the prosecution to try and have a caution issued rather than the case going to court.
Websters Lawyers has an outstanding team of criminal and traffic lawyers who can assist you with your caution enquiry. Contact us today for a free first consultation. Because the sooner you act, often the better off you’ll be.
FREE FIRST INTERVIEW
NO WIN NO FEE
LOCAL LAWYERS FOR LOCAL NEEDS
GET THE RIGHT LAWYER FIRST
Having such a short time frame I was very impressed with the outcome made by [my solicitor]. Excellent and timely manner
Very professional mannerism and overall great outcome was delivered by Websters Lawyers.
West Ryde NSW
Helpful, explained fully, patient, excellent service.
Patient and helpful in explaining the process.
Call Websters Lawyers for a most professional and friendly service. All understanding with [my solicitors] and the reception staff. Thank you so much.
Making my will was effortless on my part, with everything explained clearly. Well done to all.
Great service, professional, explains things clearly, definitely recommend Websters Lawyers.
Patient, professional, good communication about procedures and probable outcomes.
Thank you for all your work over the course of the case. You [both] were always very approachable and I appreciated your understanding and professionalism in all areas.
All in all my experience was great. Thank you for your time and expertise.
My matter was dealt with efficiently and was explained in an understandable language. A pleasant experience.
Practical and very helpful. Reasons and explanations given where needed
I stumbled across Websters in the Yellow Pages and I rang, explained my situation and immediately they took my case on. Greatly appreciate their services.
The service from Websters Lawyers was outstanding. [My solicitor] was caring, had patience and was very professional. Wonderful personality.
[My solicitor] made everything so simple to understand. [The receptionist] was wicked too, would recommend them anytime. Level of entire service was outstanding.
I had dealings with Websters over 20 years ago. They were my first choice when I recently needed legal advice. Both legal and office staff were professional, courteous and accessible at all times. Everything was explained up front in a clear and concise manner. I would not hesitate to recommend their services.
It has truly been a pleasure communicating with you throughout the process. I really appreciate your patient and speedy replies to my questions and requests. You were always able to provide an easily understood response and this helped me deal with the process. Your friendly and positive manner encouraged me to seek your advice.
Battery Hill QLD
[My lawyer's] service was prompt and efficient with all questions explained clearly with all our requests carried out within the laws. Overall service was very satisfactory.
[My lawyer] was excellent.
Excellent service. Professional. Clear advice and instructions. Prompt actions. Overall 10/10!
Overall, I was happy with my outcome and my lawyer, would definitely recommend [my lawyer].
[My solicitor] was excellent at helping us through preparing our wills which were particularly challenging as they involved assets in multiple countries. She was professional and knowledgeable and spent time tailoring the wills to our needs.
[My solicitor] was very helpful, respectful and polite. She made sure I understood the process and documentation of our wills.
Professional. Smooth Transaction.
I found the whole experience from Receptionist to Solicitor excellent. They completely put us at our ease.
This was a new experience for us and didn’t have a clue what to do. [Our solicitor] on our first visit put us at ease, explained what will happen, pointed out there was a strong case. [Our solicitor] was genuine in her approach, kept us well informed, explained actions several times with patience and understanding. Overall very happy with the service we received.
[My lawyer] was very reassuring in her approach to my case. I felt that every possibility in terms of evidence to provide and possible outcomes were explained to me, The result of the case was the best possible outcome I could have expected.
With no previous dealing with the criminal justice system, [our solicitor] gave us excellent advice and guided us through a nightmare to achieve a just and correct outcome. [Our lawyer] was both forthright and compassionate in her handling of our case.
[My lawyer] explained all the legal terms in language I could understand – she was very easy to talk to.
Cameron, Munno Para
I felt confident knowing my matter was in good hands. Very professional!
Shravan, Christie Downs
Initial phone call was fantastic and the role of an executor was fully explained.
Penny, Henley Beach
The service I received was efficient and promptly finalised. The solicitor clearly explained the details and I was happy with how easy it was.
Dale, Fairview Park
[My lawyer] was exactly the lawyer I needed in a serious matter. The outcome was as predicted which was a fantastic result. I received prompt professional and personal service at all times. Capable and supportive in a very stressful period.
Jason, Munno Para West
I had any of my concerns answered to my satisfaction and understanding.
Valda, Ingle Farm
[My lawyer] is an excellent professional lawyer who assisted in achieving a great positive outcome/result. I sincerely thank you and your great staff for your assistance and guidance throughout my claim. Would highly recommend [my lawyer], staff and Websters Lawyers. Kept fully informed and guided, professionally throughout the matter.
Our work was dealt with very efficiently and speedily. Our lawyer was very professional, at the same time as being approachable. Communication was great.
My experience with Websters Lawyers was far beyond what I expected. From the moment I spoke to [my lawyer] she made me feel very comfortable and eased my stress. In my case I had a court appearance the day before we were scheduled to fly to Spain, Considering my first appointment with her was only 2 weeks before the court hearing, she was able to obtain the police statement and thoroughly work on my case within that limited time frame. She was very knowledgeable, understanding and confident which greatly relieved so much pressure from me and my family. At court, she explained everything thoroughly and advised me of all the possible outcomes. Price, service and result, very highly recommended. Thank you Websters Lawyers.
Rafael, Davoren Park
I have high expectations and they were met. Websters service was swift, courteous, professional and met the agreed budget. I will recommend Websters to my family, friends and colleagues. Thank you.
I would recommend Websters Lawyers, especially for [my lawyer's] dedication and exemplary attitude and advice. She is the epitome of a good lawyer. The service was impeccable.
Pamela, West Lakes
[My lawyer] was very professional and I was made comfortable to understand.
I was very pleased with the end result and how well [my lawyer] conducted herself.
Jesse, Morphett Vale
[My lawyer] has been very prompt , reliable and provided a high level of communication.
My experience at Websters was very positive. The stress was taken from me and I could not be happier with the outcome. [My lawyer] at Websters was professional, personable, available and caring. Thank you for making the experience stress free.
Magda, Holden Hill