Unintended consequences: Why you never plead guilty to a minor offence

Beware of how one small legal offence can cost you your gun licence

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All across Australia we are seeing significant government overreach, resulting in unexpected and often severe consequences to normally law-abiding decent Aussies.

A case in point occurred recently in Chinchilla, Queensland, and thankfully has generated some decent regional media coverage as it truly is the thin edge of the wedge for many people.

A 75-year-old man was stopped by police for suspected DUI, but upon being tested at the nearby police station he was found not to be under the influence of alcohol. Normally this would be the end of the matter, but a police officer saw he was wearing a pocket knife on his belt in a pouch (as most blokes in rural areas do). 

He was then charged and fined $100 for unlawful possession of a knife in public.

According to media reports even the police prosecutor expressed surprise that the gentleman was charged for this. 

Since the man had pleaded guilty there was no further questions asked.

So, two things here.

First, the man actually committed no offence under Queensland law because the law specifically allows exemptions.

It is a reasonable excuse to physically possess a knife to perform a lawful activity, duty or employment; to participate in a lawful entertainment, recreation or sport, for exhibiting the knife or for use for a lawful purpose.

Examples as quoted in section 51 of the Weapons Act 1990 are:

  • a person may carry a knife on his or her belt for performing work in primary production
  • a Scout may carry a knife on his or her belt as part of the Scout uniform
  • a person may carry a knife as an accessory while playing in a pipe band
  • a fisher may carry a knife for use while fishing
  • a person who collects knives may exhibit them at a fete or another public gathering
  • a person may use a knife to prepare or cut food at a restaurant in a public place or when having a picnic in a park, or
  • a person may carry a pen knife or Swiss army knife for use for its normal utility purpose.  

As you can see there were clear reasons in the act showing he had not actually committed any offence and yet he was apparently encouraged to plead guilty because it “would only be a small fine”.

Our second point: the man has now pleaded guilty to a weapons offence. Queensland Weapons Act section 10B states you are not a fit and proper person to hold a firearms licence if you have been convicted of an offence relating to or involving the use, carriage, discharge or possession of a weapon (among other things), meaning it is highly likely anyone who pleads guilty to carrying a pocket knife in public will shortly receive a notice from their state registry cancelling or suspending their firearms licence!

So here we have an example of someone who actually has committed no real offence, who was misled into pleading guilty to what he was told is a “minor” offence, and who is now likely to lose his firearms licence (if he has one), turning this into a potentially big issue if he relies on that firearm as a tool in his work in agriculture, let alone any sporting interests.

We are seeing laws that were designed to prevent criminals carrying weapons, perverted and turned upon normal Aussie citizens in ways they were never intended.

And then we have the generally law-abiding and police-respecting attitude of most of us. When a police officer tells us we have committed an offence we tend to believe them and plead guilty, thinking we made an innocent mistake.

Sadly, times have changed greatly in Australia and today we need to question, check and challenge authorities every time we are supposedly doing something “wrong”. This should be done in a polite and civil manner but none of us should ever plead guilty to anything until speaking with a competent solicitor who specialises in firearms or weapons issues because what at first seems a minor issue could quickly spiral out of control, with many more serious unintended consequences.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Very wise advice. Admit nothing to police; comply with police directions; seek competent legal advice immediately. We have seen a marked escalation in police over-reach in NSW in response to the Coroner’s harsh criticism of the NSW Firearms Registry for its failures which led to the tragic Edwards incident in July 2018.

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