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When you are charged with criminal or traffic offence, one of the first things that you will need to consider is whether to plead “guilty” or “not guilty” to the offence(s) which you face. This is an extremely important decision and you should consult a criminal lawyer to assist you in deciding how to plead.
Should I plead “guilty” or “not guilty”?
Often people will assume that they must plead guilty to the offence(s) they have been charged with. The Police can be intimidating and can persuade someone that they would have no chance in successfully defending the matter. Do not be fooled, this is not always the case. At the end of the day, the Police are not on your side, they want a conviction.
As specialist criminal defence lawyers, you can be assured that we do not hold any preconceived ideas that you are guilty – at law, you are innocent until proven guilty (such a simple notion which many seem to forget!). When you meet with us, we will carefully consider the particular facts, circumstances and evidence in relation to the offence(s) you have been charged with. We will give you specific advice as to whether we recommend defending the charge(s) or whether you should plead guilty.
If you have been charged with more than one offence, it may even be the case that you decide to plead guilty to some and not guilty to others.
In deciding how to plead, some of main factors to consider are as follows:
Presumption of innocence - By law, you are innocent until proven guilty. This means that you always have the right to plead not guilty, and let the Court decide whether there is enough evidence to prove guilt against you. The onus is generally on the Police/DPP/Crown to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt against you. This applies even if you believe that you are in fact guilty.
Not enough evidence - Because of the presumption of innocence described above, it is the prosecutor (the police lawyer) who has to prove your guilt. If the prosecutor does not have enough evidence against you to prove your guilt, you are to be found not guilty.
Technical “defence” - Sometimes it is possible to rely on a “technicality” to have some (or all) of the crucial prosecution evidence or the charge. Some of these technicalities include. For instance there may be some evidence which is not admissible in Court as it was improperly obtained. This is just one of many examples.
Defence - There are numerous specific defences that can be used to defeat a charge. These include self defence, insanity, necessity, provocation and duress.
Discount for early plea of guilty - By law, a person who pleads guilty early on in Court must be given a discount on their penalty. It is sometimes advisable to consider pleading guilty if there appears to be no prospect of beating the charge.
I have decided to plead guilty, now what?
If after receiving advice from our criminal lawyers, you have decided to plead guilty to an offence(s), our aim is simple – minimise the punishment that is imposed by the Magistrate or Judge.
In some cases, it may be the case that we advise the Police/DPP/Crown that you will plead guilty if they give you something in return. This may be that they delete certain facts which appear in the Facts Sheet (which a Judge/Magistrate will read at sentencing), it may be that they drop the charge to a less serious charge and you will plead guilty to the lesser charge or it may be that they must drop some charges and you will plead guilty to others in return. These are just some examples – our criminal lawyers will explore the possibility of this option with you.
Once your plea of guilty is entered at Court, your matter will be set down for sentencing (in minor offences this will often occur on the same day that you plead guilty). It is imperative that your matter is fully prepared for sentencing to give you every opportunity of getting a lenient punishment.
The purpose of a sentencing hearing is to:
Allow you to put your case before the Court as to what the appropriate penalty should be (sometimes called a “plea in mitigation”).
Allow the prosecution to put forward their view of the appropriate penalty; and
For the Court to then decide what penalty it will impose on you.
What will a Court consider at sentencing and how do I have my punishment minimised?
There is whole branch of law about the process of imposing a sentence. Far too often, people will go underprepared to sentencing. Our criminal lawyers will thoroughly prepare your case for sentencing – if there is anything that can be done to have your punishment minimised, it will be done.
There are a variety of factors that a Court will consider in determining what sentence to impose. These include:
An explanation of why you committed the offence – we will provide this explanation to the Court
Your personal circumstances.
Obtaining medical reports (eg from a psychologist, counsellor or psychiatrist).
In traffic matters, your driving requirements, your driving record and whether you have completed the traffic offenders program.
Other members of the community vouching that you are a person of good character (we will make sure your character references are properly drafted).
The likelihood of reoffending and whether you have attended a rehabilitation course.
Showing the Court statistics about sentences imposed for a particular offences.
Researching cases with similar facts to your case; and
Arguing legal points about the law of sentencing.
As you can see, there are a large number of factors that a Court can consider. As the Courts are generally running on strict timeframes, it is important that only the most relevant information is presented to the Court. It can work against you if you simply throw as much information as you can to a Judge/Magistrate. Courts hear thousands of guilty pleas each year so it’s important to make your plea different. It is an art in presenting an effective guilty plea to the Court. Our criminal lawyers are experienced court advocates and will carefully consider what points they will push the hardest before the Judge/Magistrate.
Contact Prime Lawyers – Specialists in guilty pleas
If you have been charged with a criminal or traffic offence(s), we invite you to contact us now on (02) 9521 2222. You can also send an enquiry online now and we will call you shortly. We are here to help.