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Should I Plead Guilty or Not Guilty?

The biggest question for anyone accused of a criminal offence is whether to plead guilty or not guilty. This decision may affect the sentence you receive, how long the matter takes to be finalised and whether you have a conviction recorded. A person should never plead guilty unless they agree that they are responsible for all aspect of the criminal offending that is being alleged.

If arrested and charged with offences, you should call a lawyer, as you are entitled to do. Remember that you do not have to participate in an interview just because police ask you to. In almost all cases, you should not complete an interview, with some rare exceptions.

Take your time to make an informed decision. You should ascertain what the charges against you are, take advice from a criminal lawyer and only then, give your instructions about which way you will plead.

Guilty plea means taking total responsibility for the offences

Courts acknowledge that people can plead guilty for a variety of reasons, including that they do not wish to prolong a matter or cause witnesses to have to give evidence. Whatever your motivation for pleading guilty, you need to know that when you do so you are taking responsibility for the offences unequivocally. Courts have said that a plea of guilty “amounts to a formal confession of the existence of every ingredient necessary to constitute the offence”.

Justices Dawson and McHugh said, in a much-quoted High Court case from the 1990s: “The plea of guilty must … not [be] made in circumstances suggesting that it is not a true admission of guilt. Those circumstances include ignorance, fear, duress, mistake or even the desire to gain a technical advantage … If it appears to the trial judge, for whatever reason, that a plea of guilty is not genuine, he or she must (and it is not a matter of discretion) obtain an unequivocal plea of guilty or direct that a plea of not guilty be entered. But otherwise an accused may insist upon pleading guilty.”

If there is any aspect of the charge, or part of the allegations, that you are unsure about or that you feel you may have a defence to, do not plead guilty.

Sentencing discount for pleading guilty

A plea of guilty attracts a discount on sentence. This is generally up to 25 per cent and the discount is spelt out in legislation as well as acknowledged in thousands of cases. Therefore, a plea of guilty can make the difference between going to prison or remaining in the community.

Pleading guilty can be the difference between receiving a criminal conviction which can affect your employment, travel and ability to obtain security clearances or being dealt with by way of a non-conviction order, the “Section 17” (in the ACT).

If you are charged with any matter, you will have a host of decisions to make, but the biggest will be whether to plead guilty or not guilty.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Andrew Fraser - Managing Associate - Canberra

This article was written by Andrew Fraser - Managing Associate - Canberra

Andrew works in the areas of criminal law and traffic law, providing practical advice in all of his clients’ matters. Andrew has, over many years, developed positive working relationships with prosecutors, magistrates and judges. His no-nonsense approach means he has a reputation for putting forward the best case possible for clients. Andrew has won many matters for his clients, including...

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