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Preparing to Plead Guilty

Having the very best legal representation is a significant factor in achieving the best possible outcome when a person is pleading guilty to criminal charges. Armstrong Legal has a team of lawyers who are experienced in all aspects of criminal law.  Our lawyers appear daily in the Local Courts in New South Wales.

This means that:

  • Your lawyer will know the Local Court magistrate and how best to approach them;
  • Your lawyer has specialist knowledge as to what penalties you face and which orders are appropriate to ask for, to get you the best realistic result; and
  • Your lawyer knows exactly what to say and what not to say.

Some things to consider doing prior to pleading guilty

Depending on your circumstances and what you have been charged with, it may be appropriate to do some or all of the following prior to finalising your matter by pleading guilty.

  • Draft a letter of apology to the victim or other persons affected by your offending;
  • Obtain effective character references;
  • Consider rehabilitation programs such as the MERIT program, if your offending was drug or alcohol-related;
  • Complete a Traffic Offender Program, if you are pleading guilty to driving offences;
  • Complete a course in anger management if anger was a factor in your offending;
  • Receive alcohol or drug counselling if you have a specific substance abuse problem;

Agree to a final Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) if your offending was domestic violence-related and an AVO is being sought.

Obtain effective character references

In our experience, a well-drafted character reference can have an impact on the sentence that is imposed by the court. We believe that a court character reference must paint a picture of your character. If your character references don’t help you stand out from the other offenders in court then you will be dealt with just like all the other cases. Most court character references make statements like this “James Brown is hardworking, energetic and generous with his time and money”. We believe that these references have very little impact on the sentence imposed by the Court. As some magistrates comment “I have never read a bad character reference.” But by the use of examples, illustrations and stories a referee can bring your character to life.

Draft letter of apology

One of the key factors any Magistrate considers when sentencing a person is whether the offender has accepted responsibility for what they have done and has shown remorse. A heartfelt and genuine apology letter is an effective way of conveying this to the court.

The crucial element to any apology letter is it being genuine. Do not be tempted to download an apology template from the internet and fill in the blanks, as Magistrates have seen versions of these letters many thousands of times and will instantly recognise their source.

It is imperative that you write your letter from the heart and in your own words. The Magistrate does not expecting your letter be perfect.

The elements for an effective apology letter are simple:

  1. Recognise and accept what you have done wrong;
  2. Apologise for the offence/s;
  3. Apologise to any victims;
  4. Let the court know what you have learnt from the experience of being charged with the offence and/or any rehabilitation or other programs you have undertaken since being charged; and
  5. Tell the court why you will never commit this offence again.

Pleading guilty to drug offences

Below are some specific recommendations for persons pleading guilty to drug offences.

Receive Drug Counselling

It is common practise where an offender has a number of drug-related offences on their record for a Magistrate to question the offender as to whether they have a drug problem. If you do have a drug problem it is wise to have drug counselling to help you abstain from drugs. Under the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act the Court must take into account your attempts to rehabilitate yourself when imposing a sentence. These can include courses such as The Positive Lifestyles Program, SMART Recovery Program or Narcotics Anonymous.

Participate in the MERIT program

MERIT (Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment) is a program based in Local Courts in New South Wales that provides the opportunity for adult offenders who have drug problems to work, on a voluntary basis, towards rehabilitation as part of the bail process. MERIT Teams, based in NSW Health conduct the assessment of participants. Based on the assessment, you may be accepted into MERIT to receive targeted drug treatment. The MERIT treatment program will be developed to match your individual needs. The court can make your involvement in MERIT a condition of bail.

Participants are closely case-managed by the MERIT Team throughout the program and the Magistrate receives regular reports on the offender’s progress. The final hearing and sentence generally coincide with the completion of the MERIT program. Magistrates are then able to consider your progress in treatment as part of final sentencing. It is our experience that participants who commit to the program receive a marked discount in the penalty imposed.

Complete a traffic offender program (drug driving offenders only)

Completing a Traffic Offender Program demonstrates to the Magistrate that you are serious about improving your driving behaviour. The Traffic Offenders Program is designed to increase a person’s understanding of their social obligations, particularly where they relate to traffic laws. When sentencing a drug driving offender, a Magistrate may take into account any changes of attitude displayed since you attended the traffic offender program These courses are offered in a variety of formats, from online to an intensive one day per week for eight weeks. Depending on your offence and your record, our team can advise which is the most appropriate for your circumstances.

Pleading guilty to assault offences

Below are some specific recommendations for persons pleading guilty to assaults and other violent offences.

Complete a course in anger management

Completing a course or counselling sessions in anger management demonstrates to the court that you are serious about ensuring that you will not commit similar offences in the future. Upon completion of the course, you should obtain a report from the organisation providing the counselling/training. We also recommend that you write a letter to the court indicating what you have learnt from the counselling/training.

Receive alcohol counselling

It is common practice where an offender has a number of alcohol-related offences on their record for a Magistrate to question the offender as to whether they have an alcohol problem. If you do have an alcohol problem, it is wise to have alcohol counselling to help you abstain from alcohol or reduce your alcohol intake. Under the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act the court must take into account your attempts to rehabilitate yourself when imposing a sentence.

Agree to an Apprehended Violence Order

If you are pleading guilty to an assault offence and the victim of the assault (or the police on their behalf) is seeking an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order, the court is duty-bound to make an order except in some limited circumstances. It is in your interests to agree to the making of an order that the court is likely to make anyway. This demonstrates to the court that you are keen to ensure that the victim is adequately protected in the future.

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

Tyson Brown

This article was written by Tyson Brown

Tyson Brown holds a Bachelor of Business from Swinburne University, a Juris Doctor from RMIT and a GDLP from ANU. He is admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the High Court of Australia. Tyson is a valued and trusted member of the Criminal Law team, having first joined Armstrong Legal over five years...

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