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Pleading Guilty in the Magistrates Court (Qld)

When a person is charged with summary offences in Queensland, they will need to finalise the matter in the Magistrates Court. This can be done by pleading guilty and proceeding to sentencing or by contesting the matter and going through a contested hearing. This article deals with pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court in Queensland.

Pleading guilty online

If a person has received a summons or complaint to attend court from the Queensland Police in relation to a summary offence, they may choose to plead guilty online. This is also known as dealing with a matter ex parte (with one party only).

Summary offences are minor offences such as traffic offences and public disorder offences like disorderly behaviour and public nuisance. They are finalised in front of a magistrate. More serious offences are known as indictable offences and are finalised in the higher courts (or by a magistrate with the consent of both parties).

If you want to plead guilty online, you must submit your online guilty plea at least two business days before your court date. Your guilty plea will then be read out to the court. Depending on the circumstances, the magistrate may deal with the matter in your absence or adjourn it to another date and require you to attend court.

If the matter is dealt with in your absence, you will receive correspondence from the State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER), informing you of the penalty and the offender levy that you have to pay.

Do I need a lawyer?

A lot of people represent themselves when they are pleading guilty to minor offences in the Magistrates Court. There are, however, many advantages to having a lawyer represent you.

A lawyer will be able to assess the strength of the case against you and identify if there are any available legal defences. They will also be able to engage in negotiations on your behalf with the prosecution, which may result in charges being withdrawn or the police statement of facts being amended.

Things to consider before pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court

Before a person pleads guilty to offences in Queensland, there are several things they should consider.

Are you actually guilty?

This question may be more complicated than it seems. Many offences are made up of a physical element (the actus reus) and a mental element (the mens rea). You may have committed the physical act but may not fulfil the mental element required to be found guilty of the offence. Alternately, there may be a defence available to you.

Have you been charged with the right offence?

In some cases, police may charge an accused with one offence where another charge would be more appropriate. It may be possible to resolve this by talking to the prosecution and asking them if they would be willing to substitute the charge that better reflects what happened. It may also be appropriate to contest the charge on the basis it is not made out on the facts.

Can the prosecution prove it?

If you are guilty, consider whether the prosecution can prove this to the court. This may require you to adjourn the matter and obtain the brief of evidence to see exactly what material the prosecution is relying on. If the case against you is strong, it makes sense to plead guilty. If it is a weak case, you may decide to plead not guilty or try to negotiate with the prosecution for the withdrawal of some or all of the charges.

Prepare thoroughly before pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court

Before pleading guilty, you should gather all the relevant supporting documentation you can find to put before the court.

This may include character references from people who know you and are aware of the charges. Such references should state how the writer knows you and give their opinion of you. It is important that the reference mentions that the writer is aware of the offences you are to be sentenced for. Suitable people to provide character references are employers, colleagues and fellow students. References from family members are not persuasive.

Consider whether there were any mitigating factors in your offending and provide the court with documentation of the situation and anything you have done to address it. Mitigating factors are pressures and circumstances that contributed to your offending (without excusing it). For example, if you were dealing with an alcohol or drug problem and this was a factor in the offending, show the court evidence of any steps you have taken to address these issues, such as having drug and alcohol counselling or engaging with other support programs.

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

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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