If you have been charged with a criminal offence, you may be considering pleading guilty. Additionally, you may consider representing yourself in court or be wondering if you do need a lawyer when pleading guilty. Perhaps you are thinking about pleading guilty and self-representation because you just want to quickly dispose of the matter behind and save on legal fees. Certainly, it is understandable that you would want to put the matter behind you, but pleading guilty may have serious permanent consequences for you that you had not considered. There are important matters to consider before you plead guilty and a lawyer, even if he or she does not represent you in court, could give you valuable advice before your court appearance as to the possible consequences you face.
As regards to any cost concerns when hiring a lawyer, it is important to be aware of the availability of Legal Aid NSW. This is a government state-wide organisation that provides legal services in criminal, family and civil law to socially and economically disadvantaged people. You will be means tested and if you pass the means test you can be provided with free legal services from Legal Aid NSW. Alternatively, Legal Aid may organise a private lawyer for you who will be paid through Legal Aid. So if cost was initially a consideration when determining whether or not you need a lawyer when pleading guilty, it should not be.
If you do wish to represent yourself when pleading guilty, getting legal advice beforehand can provide you with some valuable insight as to what the process is going to be, whether or not you should plead guilty, and how to prepare yourself for your court appearance.
Advice as to the process
The court process is complex. Also, the uncertainty of the whole process adds to the daunting nature of it. When you appear in court, it is busy and filled with lawyers who are experienced with the process. The legal language used in court can add to the confusion.
If you speak with a lawyer before appearing in court you can be informed of the process. You can be advised as to what each court appearance entails. You can have a better idea of what to expect and how to respond.
If you do choose to plead guilty, the next step in the process is sentencing. It is important to be prepared for your sentence. A lawyer can provide valuable representation for you that could mean the difference between a conviction being entered against your name or a discharge. At a sentence hearing it is vital that the court knows about your good character and understands the reasons for your behaviour that lead to your offence. A criminal lawyer has the court expertise to show the judge or magistrate there is more to you than just an offender. This may lead to a reduction in your penalty.
It is worthy to note that at sentencing, there will either be a police prosecutor or a solicitor from the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions pushing for their own view on what penalty they see fits the crime. That penalty is often in favour of a harsher sentence than the one you would see as fair. Having your own lawyer can balance the scales in your favour.
There is also one very important point to consider before deciding to plead guilty and that is whether the charge is the appropriate charge for the alleged offence. Just because police have filed the charges against you does not mean they are the right charges. Often the police can ‘over-charge’. That is, they may choose a more serious crime to represent the offence or they may file a number of charges arising out of the same activity.
Finding the right charge is a technical aspect of the law that requires a legal understanding of the criminal legislation and detailed analysis of the evidence. An experienced criminal lawyer can review the evidence and then negotiate with the police on the charges to see to it that you are charged with the right criminal offence, representative of the activity, and that you are not over-charged.
It is always worth remembering that you are innocent until proven guilty and the police or the prosecution have to prove that you committed the alleged offence. So if you are considering whether you need a lawyer if you are pleading guilty you may find it beneficial to speak with a lawyer initially. The lawyer can obtain the police file and review it. The police may not in fact have enough evidence to prove the charge and in that instance you may not have to plead guilty at all.
So if you are thinking about pleading guilty and representing yourself, please bear in mind that there are some important legal matters that ought to be considered before you enter a plea: is the charge the right one, do the police have enough evidence, and what sentence do you face. These considerations and advice from a lawyer could ultimately mean the difference between a charge being reduced or even dropped entirely, and you having a criminal conviction.