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.