Pleading guilty means that you agree to the facts and charges as alleged by the police. You can plead guilty at different stages in the criminal proceedings.

After pleading guilty, your matter will go to sentencing, where the court will decide what sentence to impose.


What happens when you plead guilty?

When charged with an offence, you will receive a Court Attendance Notice (CAN) which lists the date and time that your matter will first be heard in court. No matter how serious the charge, it is first listed in the Local Court for “mention”.  This is the first opportunity to plead guilty to an offence.

If you plead guilty to a summary offence, the magistrate will usually sentence you immediately.

For some matters, the magistrate may order a Sentencing Assessment Report. This report helps the magistrate determine whether you can serve your sentence in the community, instead of in prison, and whether you are eligible for community service. If the Magistrate requires this report, your case may be adjourned for six weeks so that the report can be prepared.

If you plead guilty to an indictable offence, the magistrate will “commit” the case to the District or Supreme Court for sentencing. The magistrate cannot sentence you. This means that even though you have pleaded guilty in the Local Court, you will be sentenced on a future date in a different court.


Written Notice of Pleading

In some matters, the police will provide a yellow Written Notice of Pleading together with the CAN. Completing and submitting this form allows a person to plead guilty in writing instead of attending court.

You should seek legal advice before completing a Written Notice of Pleading. Generally, we advise against it. By completing the written notice you will most likely receive a criminal conviction. Your matter will be heard in your absence, and you will have lost the opportunity to present your case and advocate for a penalty which does not carry a criminal conviction. It also suggests to the court that you do not take the matter seriously.


Guilty plea discount on sentence

Entering a plea of guilty for an indictable offence can automatically reduce the sentence. This is known as the mandatory discount scheme. The objective of the scheme is to encourage early pleas of guilty, so as to make the criminal justice system faster and more efficient. The discount depends on when you plead guilty.

The mandatory discounts are:

  • 25% if you plead guilty in the Local Court before the end of the committal process.
  • 10% if you plead guilty up to 14 days before the trial is scheduled to begin.
  • 5% if you plead guilty less than 14 days before the trial is scheduled to begin, or during the trial.


Retaining a lawyer for your guilty plea

If you wish, you can plead guilty at the Local Court without a lawyer. It is important however to seek legal advice first so you can make the best decision.

Legal representation for a plea of guilty will ensure you receive the best possible outcome. An experienced defence lawyer will provide full and proper preparation including advice regarding character references, and whether seeking counselling or attending programs such as the Traffic Offenders Intervention Program are needed.

A good defence lawyer will have thorough knowledge of the relevant sentencing legislation and case law. They can advise you in relation to possible and probable penalties, disqualification periods, and any other concerns that you may have.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do the sentencing discounts for guilty pleas apply to everyone?

No. You are not entitled to the discount if:

  • Your offence is not an indictable offence.
  • Your offence is punishable with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and the court decides that a life sentence is appropriate.
  • You are charged with a Commonwealth offence.
  • You are charged with a serious children’s indictable offence.

The court may decide not to apply the discount if:

  • You dispute the facts and you lose the dispute.
  • Your culpability was extreme.

As noted above, the mandatory discount scheme only applies to indictable offences and not summary offences. However, if you plead guilty to a summary offence, the court must consider the guilty plea and may impose a lesser penalty.

Can I change my guilty plea?

Yes. You can apply to change your plea to not guilty. However, it is an application and the court may not accept the change of plea. Relevant considerations for the court include the following:

  • The accused did not understand the nature of the charges.
  • The plea was not made freely and voluntarily.
  • The plea was induced by threats.
  • The advice of the applicant’s lawyer(s) was imprudent, inappropriate or incorrect.

What is plea bargaining?

A plea bargain usually involves the accused pleading guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for the prosecution dropping a more serious charge. It may involve amending the agreed facts or putting certain charges on a Form 1.

Discussions on pleading guilty, or which charges will be pursued, usually happen during the case conference. The case conference is part of the committal process and involves a meeting between the prosecutor and the defence lawyer to discuss the issues of the case.

What is a ‘Form 1’?

When sentencing someone for an offence, a court may consider additional charges, where the offender has been charged but not convicted. These charges are placed on a “Form 1”.

How can we help?

We have over 55 years of experience in successfully representing clients who wish to plead guilty.

Book a consultation or call us on 1300 668 484 for 24/7 legal advice.