District Court New South Wales

Criminal cases

The District Court of NSW deals with a wide range of criminal matters. The only charges that the district court cannot deal with are murder or treason, which must be dealt with by the Supreme Court. See more information about the District Court's criminal jurisdiction.

Types of criminal cases in the District Court

The District Court determines cases that have been committed (referred) from the Local Court or Children's Court. Cases are committed to the District Court for trial or for sentence.


A trial is held when the accused person pleads not guilty to an indictable offence. A jury will determine the guilt or innocence of the accused (unless the accused elects to have a trial by judge alone).

Sentence hearings

A sentence hearing is held if a person pleads guilty to an indictable offence. Sentence hearings are heard by a judge alone, with the accused and the prosecution making submissions about the sentence. Juries do not determine sentence cases. 

At a sentence hearing, the court will be presented with the facts of the case. The court may also order that a pre-sentence report be provided. Both the prosecution and defence may present other reports and evidence if they are considered appropriate, including the accused's previous criminal record and victim impact statements.

The trial process

The prosecution is responsible for proving beyond reasonable doubt that the accused person committed the alleged offence. The defence can choose to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses or challenge the evidence. It can also call its own evidence or witnesses.

Trial by judge alone

An accused person or the prosecution can apply for the case to be tried by judge alone, instead of by jury. Application for trial by judge alone is made by notice of motion and must be made at least 28 days prior to the trial date, or with leave of the court.

What happens during a criminal trial by jury?

The following is a general overview of the steps in a criminal trial by jury:

  • jurors are empanelled and sworn in for jury service
  • the indictment (offences) is read out the accused (this is called arraignment)
  • the accused takes a formal plea before the jury
  • the Crown (prosecutor) and the Defence open their respective cases
  • the Crown calls witnesses and the witnesses give evidence
  • the Defence calls witnesses and the witnesses give evidence
  • the Crown raises issues in reply to Defence case, and addresses the jury
  • the Defence addresses the jury
  • the judge sums up and the jury goes out to deliberate
  • the jury returns and delivers a verdict, or advises that they are unable to reach a verdict
  • if the accused is found guilty, the case is adjourned to another date for sentence
  • if found not guilty, the accused is discharged
  • if the jury is discharged without reaching verdict (known as a hung jury), the matter is relisted for trial.

What happens if the accused does not appear?

If an accused person who is on bail does not attend court, the judge can issue a warrant for his or her arrest. The judge may also order that the bail is forfeited.

Verdicts, sentencing and judgments


In trials by jury, the jury can return a verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty." If the jury returns the verdict of 'not guilty', the defendant is acquitted and discharged from the courtroom. If the jury returns a 'guilty' verdict, the accused is convicted and may be sentenced either then, or at a later date determined by the court.

Sentencing and penalties

The penalties the court can impose include fines, conditional release orders, community correction orders, intensive correction orders and imprisonment.


Judgments (reasons for a sentencing decision) by district court judges may be delivered orally, or in written form. Where the Judge decides to publish the judgment it can be accessed on the NSW Caselaw website.

Last updated:

08 May 2023

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