Pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court
What does pleading guilty mean?
If you plead guilty to a criminal offence (charge) it means you accept that you committed the offence and accept the facts as alleged by the police or prosecuting body.
The offence is contained in the prosecution notice. You should have been given a copy of this notice but if not, the court and the prosecutor will have a copy.
The prosecution facts are contained in a document called the 'statement of material facts'. You should check what is in this statement before you plead guilty to be sure you agree with the prosecution's version of what happened. If you do not agree with the facts in the statement, you should seek legal advice before you plead guilty. You can seek advice from your own lawyer or from a duty lawyer.
What happens in court if I plead guilty?
When you appear in court you will be asked what you want to do. If you indicate that you want to enter a plea, the charge will be read out and you will be asked what your plea will be. If you say you are pleading guilty, the court will ask the prosecutor to read out the statement of material facts. The prosecutor may also comment on the seriousness of the offence and the appropriate penalty. The penalty is referred to as your "sentence".
What is a plea in mitigation?
Before the court sentences you, you or your representative will be given an opportunity to speak. This is called presenting a 'plea in mitigation'.
A 'plea in mitigation' is an opportunity to provide information that will help you when the court is deciding on the appropriate sentence. As part of the plea in mitigation, you may explain why you committed the offence and tell the court about your background and personal circumstances. You can also say something about the sentence that the court could impose. If any of the following points apply to you, it may assist you if you include them in your plea in mitigation:
- You have a good explanation for committing the offence
- You were not involved in the offence as much as some others (you were not the 'ring-leader')
- It was a one-off mistake
- You are young and inexperienced
- You have no criminal record or if you have a record, it contains nothing similar to the present offence
- You have support from family and friends and they will help to ensure you don't get into trouble again
- You have done, are doing, or will do, things to help yourself so you won't get into trouble again e.g. no longer associate with certain people, do an anger management course, get debt management advice, or get treatment for alcohol or drug use problems
- You co-operated with police
- You have apologised to the victim of your offence
- You have a good work history
- You are currently employed
- You are responsible for supporting your family or other people
- You have current health issues that affect your ability to cope or comply with certain court orders (eg imprisonment or community work)
We can advise on the law and the procedures, which should help you decide your options and the best way to handle the matter in court. We can also give you some indication as to the likely sentence or penalty the court may issue, with reference to the sentencing guidelines.
We cannot guarantee you the outcome as imposing sentences is the duty of the court, but putting mitigation before the court in a structured way definitely helps.
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