If you are charged with a criminal offence in Australia, you are generally required to enter a plea (guilty or not guilty) at the initial Court mention and the matter is then dealt with accordingly. Depending on the seriousness of the charge(s), but almost all minor matters start out in the Magistrates Court, and this is where the first chance is given for a plea to be entered.
Do I Plead Guilty or Not Guilty?
Before entering a plea, serious and careful considerations should be given to factors including:
- Correctness of the charges;
- Correctness of the facts giving rise to the charges;
- The evidence for and against the accused;
- Personal background and relevant history that might be brought to the court’s attention; and
- Understanding of the charge in question and the penalty or sentence that is likely to be imposed on a guilty plea.
Early Guilty Plea Discount
Accepting your criminal mistakes seems clear and straightforward. This seemingly simple question (of guilty or innocent) can bring up many technical and ethical quandaries, and requires serious consideration.
In Australia, everyone has their right to a fair trial and also the right to face and question any allegations brought against them, but this does not mean that an individual Accused should always make the State prove what is alleged; this is where the Guilty Plea comes in.
If there is a grey area that is not cut and dry (like with the distinction made above between guilt and innocence) then it does not mean you can have the best of both worlds. An Accused in Western Australia cannot effectively say that ‘I am pleading guilty but I didn’t really do it.’ This is ‘traversing’ the plea and is not allowed, going to show that even the simplest premise has to be properly considered.
When faced with multiple charges, lawyers can speak with the prosecutor for you and attempt to enter into plea bargaining, where effectively, you may agree in advance to enter into a guilty plea for the less serious charges in consideration for the prosecutor dropping the more serious charges against you.
What Do You Need To Do After Pleading “Guilty”?
Telling the truth and informing the court of what really happened is not as simple as it sounds. Accepting your mistakes and entering a guilty plea is only the beginning. You must fully understand the consequences of pleading guilty before doing so. If a guilty plea is entered, you must be fully prepared to accept the consequences of the penalty or sentence you may receive from the Court.
An effective legal representative is essential in bringing out the important facts properly. Even when you do not have a Defence (and so you’ve pleaded guilty as charged) there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to reduce the penalty or sentence that you would otherwise receive.
The lawyer should advise you of the supporting evidence (such as reports, references, etc) that will help persuade the Court to give you a more lenient sentence. The lawyer may even speak with the Prosecutor in order to reach a consensus on possible sentencing options beforehand.
At a sentencing hearing, your lawyer can make a Plea in Mitigation on your behalf. This is the crucial step when all the information and supporting evidence is pieced together by your lawyer, and light is shone on any facts that may ‘mitigate’ your offending behaviour, in order to achieve the most just, but also the most lenient, outcome for you.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Adam Ward was admitted into the legal profession in the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 2015. Prior to this he completed undergraduate degrees in both Law and Behavioural Science, and completed his Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice with the College of Law, in Perth.
Adam started his legal career in a small general practice law firm in Perth that specialised in wide ranging criminal law matters. He then joined Tang Law in May 2019 to form part of their already vibrant team and continue working in the areas of law that he’d developed a passion for.