When you are charged with a criminal offence, you are given the option of pleading ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’.
Pleading guilty means that you accept the charges against you, and admit to the offence.
If you plead not guilty, your case will eventually go to a defended hearing where the magistrate will hear from you and any other witnesses, and then make a decision as to whether or not you are guilty.
Depending on the nature of the offence, and the penalty it carries, as well as how much evidence the police have against you, pleading guilty can sometimes be the best option.
As well as saving you a lengthy and often difficult court process, in some cases, you will be able to obtain a discount on your overall sentence by pleading guilty early on. This is known as a guilty plea discount.
Pleading guilty at the earliest possible time demonstrates to the magistrate that you accept the charges, that you are aware of the seriousness of what you have done and are remorseful.
By pleading guilty, you can save court time, save yourself legal costs, as well as save other people involved in the case from having to go through the court process, which can often be time consuming and traumatic.
How much can I get off my sentence?
The exact discount you can get depends on how early you plead guilty. If it’s a very early plea of guilty, you will be entitled to a 25% discount. Otherwise, it will normally be anywhere between 5% and 20%.
Importantly, the law says that the discount can mean that you are given a different type of penalty eg a good behaviour bond rather than a more serious penalty such as community service or prison.
What other factors can contribute to whether I get a guilty plea discount or not?
The earlier you plead guilty, the better the discount and the more favourably the magistrate will look on you.
If you plead guilty when the case reaches the day of your defended hearing, your guilty plea discount might be substantially less than if you had acted earlier.
The magistrate will look at a range of factors when deciding on your overall discount, including the timing of your guilty plea, how strong the prosecution’s case is against you (the stronger it is, the less your plea might be considered to be worth), how long the expected hearing would be if you plead not guilty, and how much your guilty plea has benefited the community as a whole, or the other people involved in the case.
The magistrate might also look at how much co-operation you have shown to police during the process.
How do I know whether or not I should plead guilty?
Your criminal lawyer can advise you on whether entering a guilty plea early might be beneficial for you in your situation.
If the police evidence against you is not very convincing, or you have reason to believe they have not followed rules and procedures when gathering evidence against you, you might be advised to plead not guilty and your lawyer can work to get your case dropped or, if police won’t drop the case, defend it at a court hearing.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, it is essential that you get legal representation and advice as early as possible.
Getting advice from a specialised criminal lawyer, who is experienced in dealing with your particular situation, can make an enormous difference to the outcome of your case.