Written Notice of Pleading
Police often convey to offenders that they can complete the written notice instead of attending court. While technically true, it is not advisable. Not only does it reflect poorly on the person being sentenced but they can be convicted and sentenced in their absence with little chance to advocate their case.
The form does not need to be completed, but can be if the person is unable to attend court. Alternatively, you can call the Local Court Registry at which your matter is listed or write to the court if you are unable to attend.
What is a Written Notice of Pleading?
In NSW Police are able to provide people who have committed certain offences with a document called a ‘Written Notice of Pleading’. The written notice of pleading is usually contained on a yellow slip. It is a form that can be sent to the court as an alternative to attending in person. Essentially, the form asks a person to indicate to the court whether they are pleading guilty or not guilty to the offence with which they are charged and provide the court with further information about their matter.
Dangers of completing a Written Notice of Pleading
The form seems straight forward and can seem to be an attractive alternative to attending court in person. However using them can be a very bad idea.
It is important to be wary of Police that convey to you that they you can simply complete the written notice instead of attending court. While technically true, it is not advisable. Not only does it reflect poorly on you but you can be convicted and sentenced in your absence with little chance to advocate your case.
Usually the Magistrate will only have the police facts, criminal record and the words on the yellow slip. The biggest disadvantage of submitting a written pleading is that the Magistrate is unable to ask any questions they may have about you they are sentencing or about the offence itself. The court does not hear about why the offence happened and does not learn about your personal circumstances. Further, the court does not have the benefit of subjective materials including character references, letters of remorse or medical reports.
It is very difficult to get the best possible result by filling in a Written Notice of Pleading.
It is not uncommon to hear an offender charged with Possess Prohibited Drug remark that Police told them to fill out the form and they won’t get a criminal record without having to go to court. This is not always the case as some offenders will be convicted and fined in their absence.
Should I complete a Written Notice of Pleading, represent myself or get a lawyer?
The decision is yours and yours only.
That being said, the best way to increase the chance of obtaining the best possible result is seeking legal representation who will liaise with police and prosecution, negotiate the facts or charge if required, assist you in the preparation of subjective materials and make submissions on your behalf on sentence.
Completing a Written Notice of Pleading
If you wish to plead not guilty to the offence you need to complete the sections on the form that asks for the number of witnesses you require and any dates that you are unavailable to attend court.
If you wish to plead guilty to the offence you are required to complete the part of the form that asks you to explain why the offence happened and give some information about yourself, your financial situation, personal circumstances and general character’.
What will happen after I submit a Written Notice of Pleading?
After you submit a written notice of pleading and your court date passes, you will be contacted by the court to inform you of the outcome.
Some Magistrates will require offenders to attend court instead of dealing with the matter in their absence. In this case, you will be notified of a later date in which you are to attend court.
If you have entered a plea of not guilty and the Magistrate proceeds to deal with your matter, they will set down a date for your hearing. They will also allocate a duration for the hearing.
If you have entered a plea of guilty and the Magistrate proceeds to deal with your matter, they will sentence you in your absence.
Can I do anything if I’ve been convicted after completing a written notice of pleading?
If you’ve completed a written notice of pleading and have been sentenced in your absence, you cannot seek to have the matter re-determined in your presence in the Local Court (unlike in the case of an annulment application). You can however appeal the conviction and sentence.
District Court Appeals
Any person who is sentenced in the Local Court has an automatic right of appeal to the District Court. The person can appeal:
- The severity of the sentence (a Severity Appeal);
- the finding of guilt (a Conviction Appeal); or
- both the severity of the sentence and the finding of guilt (an All Grounds Appeal).
An appeal must be filed within 28 days of the date of conviction. The date of conviction is the date of the Local Court sentence and not the date the offence was said to be committed.
If this deadline has passed, an appeal can still be filed within three months of the date of conviction, however the leave of the court must be granted.
Read more about filing an appeal to the District Court.
Supreme Court Appeal
If more than three months has passed since the Local Court Sentence, then the only way to Appeal the sentence is by filing an Appeal to the Supreme Court on the basis of an error of law. If the Appeal is successful, the matter may be returned to the Local Court for sentence.
An Appeal to the Supreme Court is often more complex than an Appeal to the District Court. That being said, recent decisions from the Supreme Court have resulted in appeals being granted, convictions being quashed and matters returned to the Local Court for sentence. This can occur where the Local Court Magistrate has sentenced an offender who has submitted a written notice of pleading, and has given insufficient reasons when they have recorded the conviction and sentence.
Typically a Magistrate will deal with the written notices of pleading at the end of the day. Often there is very little information before the court about the offender or why the offence was committed. These proceedings are recorded and can be obtained from the court. If the Magistrate has said little on sentence, then there may be prospects of a successful appeal to the Supreme Court.
If you, or someone you know, might be in this position or considering an appeal feel free to call Armstrong Legal for advice on 1300 038 223 or send us an email.