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In most States and Territories people who are charged with trucking offences are given the option of pleading guilty with a written explanation, rather than attending Court in person.
On face value it’s an appealing option. Attending Court can be particularly expensive and inconvenient for truck drivers. The fact that their work takes them all over the country means that Court is often far from home. It may even be interstate. Attending Court may mean cancelling several days’ work.
However tempting, it is usually a bad idea to use a written plea instead of attending Court in person.
What is a written plea?
A written plea is a letter to the Court stating that you are pleading guilty to the charge against you. You can also include any information that you would like the Magistrate to consider when deciding the penalty, such an explanation why the offence occurred and how the penalty will impact on you.
If you submit a written plea you do not need to attend Court. The Magistrate will consider the information included in your written plea when deciding the penalty.
You cannot use a written plea for all types of charges. If using a written plea is an available option, this information is usually included with the documents notifying the person of the charges (e.g. summons, Court Attendance Notice etc).
Why is it a bad idea to use a written plea?
It is important to remember that most trucking offences carry harsh maximum penalties. The Court can impose fines in the tens of thousands of dollars. You can incur demerit points. Some traffic offences may also result in disqualification from driving. There is a lot to lose if your case does not go well.
Law enforcement officers often portray a written plea as an easy and convenient way to deal with a Court case. While it may be the easy option, using a written plea can result in the worst outcome.
The first problem with a written plea is that it does not reflect well on your attitude to the offence. Magistrates will often be more lenient when they can see the person takes the issue seriously. Making the extra effort to travel to Court demonstrates this.
Secondly, using a written plea limits your ability to advocate your case. If you are not at Court the Magistrate can only rely on the information that you included in your letter. Often Magistrates will want to know other details, clarify points or give you the opportunity to respond to what the prosecutor says. If you are not at Court you cannot do this.
Finally, there can be important information that you will only find out if you attend Court. For example, the Court will not usually notify you if your offence incurs demerit points. I have helped a number of people who incurred demerit points for offences that they submitted written pleas for. It wasn’t until their licences were suspended that they realised. Had they attended Court they would have known and may have been able to avoid the points.
What should I do?
You will get the best result by attending Court.
You can ask for an adjournment if you can’t attend on the day your case is listed. Most Magistrates are willing to delay the case until a date you can attend.
You can also seek the assistance of a lawyer who could attend Court for you.
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