If you are charged with a criminal offence, you will be required to indicate a plea where you state that you either accept the charges (guilty) or you wish to defend yourself against them (not guilty).
A plea is usually indicated on the first court date.
However, if you are unrepresented you can normally request a two-week adjournment to seek legal advice before you enter your plea.
Also, a plea is not required if the case is very serious, called a ‘strictly indictable case’.
If you plead guilty, the matter can sometimes be finalised then and there.
If you plead not guilty, the matter will usually be postponed to a later date so that the prosecution has time to serve their evidence on you or your lawyers.
If you decide to plead guilty or not guilty in court and then want to change your plea, it’s not necessarily too late as long as you do it before the matter has been finalised.
Although it’s always best to make an informed decision on your plea as early as possible, new evidence sometimes comes to light, or you may make the wrong decision in haste.
In these cases, it may be possible to change your plea but there is a formal process which will need to be followed.
Changing a plea of not guilty to guilty
Changing your plea from not guilty to guilty is relatively straightforward.
In some cases, by admitting to lesser charges you may be able to avoid the most severe sentence if you are found guilty.
While you may be under pressure to change your plea to that of guilty, it’s important that you consider very carefully all the implications before you do so.
If you are considering changing your plea to guilty make sure you seek legal advice first.
You may think that you are doing the right thing by pleading guilty but if the charge is too severe and a lesser charge is more appropriate you could then find yourself facing an unfairly harsh penalty.
You can change your plea from not guilty to guilty at any time up to when your sentence is finalised.
Remember that even if you get a lesser penalty, pleading guilty can still lead to a lifelong criminal conviction and implications for your future.
Changing your plea from guilty to not guilty
Changing from a guilty to a not guilty plea can be a more complicated process which is only allowable under certain circumstances.
Reversing laws in NSW state that if you want to change your plea to not guilty after you have previously registered a guilty plea, you will need to demonstrate that if you don’t change your plea there is a risk of a miscarriage of justice taking place.
Some of the circumstances in which you may be allowed to change your plea include where the original plea was not made voluntarily, for example if you were intimidated or coerced into making a false guilty plea.
You may also be allowed to change your plea if you can show that you didn’t plead guilty because you were genuinely conscious of your guilt, or that you misunderstood the scope of the charges against you.
If you want to change your plea it’s important to speak to your lawyer concerning the reasons so they can best express these in court in a way that will make it clear a miscarriage of justice will take place if you continue to plead guilty.
It can be difficult to change a plea from guilty to not guilty and you may be required to give evidence by way of an affidavit or on the witness stand as to why you plead guilty in the first place.
It’s important that you think very carefully before entering a plea of guilty or not guilty and fully understand the charges against you before making a decision.
Although it is possible to change your decision, the process can be complicated and changing from guilty to not guilty can affect your overall credibility.
If you are thinking about changing your plea, it’s always best to seek advice from a criminal lawyer who can advise you about whether it’s achievable and in your best interests to do so, and how to go about it.