Hard vs Soft Evidence: Do the Police Need Evidence to Charge You in Australia?
For the police to charge you with a crime in Australia, they must generally have reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed and that you are the perpetrator.
Typically, this requires some level of evidence. Physical evidence, witness statements, and circumstantial evidence are only a few examples of the various types of evidence that can be presented in court.
However, being charged does not necessarily mean that you will be convicted. To obtain a conviction, the prosecution must typically prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.
The threshold for filing charges is lower than that for achieving a conviction.
Can the Police Charge You Without Hard Evidence?
To charge you with a crime, the police do not necessarily need “hard evidence.” What is required are “reasonable grounds” to suspect an offence has been committed.
There may be multiple types of evidence involved, not all of which are physical or “hard” evidence.
“Hard evidence” refers to physical, tangible objects or clear, conclusive evidence.
This may consist of DNA, fingerprints, and surveillance footage. Even though this type of evidence can be persuasive, it is only sometimes necessary for police to file charges.
The police may also rely on “soft evidence” such as witness statements, circumstantial evidence, and observable behaviour patterns.
For instance, if multiple credible witnesses independently state that they saw you commit a crime, the police may charge you based on these statements, even without physical evidence.
Do the Police Need Evidence to Charge You, and What Types of Physical Evidence Can Be Used Against You?
In Australia, types of hard evidence that may be used against you include:
- Physical Objects: These could be weapons, stolen goods, items left at a crime scene, drug paraphernalia, or any physical item connected to the alleged crime.
- DNA Evidence: Biological samples such as blood, hair, skin cells, or other bodily fluids can be analysed for DNA connecting an individual to a crime scene or victim.
- Fingerprints: These can be lifted from a crime scene and matched to a suspect.
- Photographs and Video Recordings: These include surveillance footage, photos from a crime scene, or any visual evidence that links a person to a crime.
- Audio Recordings: These could be wiretaps, voicemails, or other recorded audio that may provide incriminating evidence.
- Digital Evidence: This can include computer files, emails, text messages, browser histories, or data from GPS devices, among others. While digital evidence might not be “hard” physically, it can provide irrefutable proof of specific actions or communications.
- Forensic Evidence: This can include ballistics reports, autopsy results, toxicology reports, or any other evidence derived from scientific analysis of physical materials.
- Documents: Written documents, such as letters, contracts, or fraudulent forms, can be hard evidence if they are related to the crime.
Do the Police Need Evidence to Charge You, and What Are The Sample Of Soft Evidence?
“Soft evidence” typically refers to forms of proof that are less tangible or more subjective than “hard evidence.” Here are some examples of soft evidence:
- Witness Testimony: An individual’s account of what they saw, heard, or experienced related to an alleged crime. Their memory or perspective might be subject to errors or bias.
- Character Evidence: Information about a person’s past behaviour, reputation, or personality traits that may indicate their likelihood to commit a specific act. This is only admissible under certain conditions.
- Circumstantial Evidence: Evidence that requires an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact—like a fingerprint at the crime scene, which doesn’t directly prove who committed the crime but establishes that a specific person was present.
- Expert Opinion: An expert in a particular field—like a forensic analyst, psychiatrist, or handwriting expert—might provide an interpretation of evidence or an opinion on a specific matter. This relies on the expert’s credibility and the strength of their analysis.
- Hearsay Evidence: An out-of-court statement presented for the truth of the matter it asserts. While hearsay evidence is often inadmissible due to its unreliability, exceptions exist.
- Pattern Evidence: If a person has engaged in a consistent pattern of behaviour, it might be used to suggest they acted in the same way on the occasion in question. This can include patterns of criminal activity or conduct that indicate a motive.
- Confessions: Verbal or written statements in which a person admits to committing a crime. The reliability of confessions can sometimes be questioned, especially if there’s a possibility they were coerced.
How To Know If You’ve Been Charged With An Offence in Australia?
If you’ve been charged with an offence in Australia, there are several ways you may find out:
Arrest: In many cases, if you’re being charged with a criminal offence, you’ll be arrested by police. During the arrest, the police must inform you of the reason for your arrest.
Court Attendance Notice (CAN): You might receive a Court Attendance Notice, a document that states the specific charges against you and includes the date and place you’re required to attend court. It may be handed to you in person, mailed to you, or served in another legally acceptable manner.
Summons: In some cases, particularly with less serious offences, you might receive a summons. A summons is a written order from a court that commands the person named to appear before it at a specific time to answer the charge detailed in it.
Police Charge or Citation: In some instances, such as for traffic violations or minor offences, you may be issued a citation or an infringement notice containing the crime’s details and a fine.
What Happens After You’ve Been Charged?
Once formally charged with a crime, you will receive a charge sheet recorded at the police station to be presented in court. You will also have access to the police prosecution file, where the officer will document communication methods, dates, times, and information provided. You will also have the option of contacting a legal representative and pleading guilty or not guilty.
Do The Police Need Evidence To Charge You?
It’s essential to be informed about your rights. Our experienced legal team at Justice Family Lawyers can provide you with advice and guidance.
Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’re facing charges or simply need to understand the law better.
Get the facts, know your rights, and find out what truly matters when it comes to the question: Do the police need evidence to charge you?
Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, Hayder specialises in complex parenting and property family law matters. He is based in Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communications from UTS.