Pleading Guilty in the Higher Courts (WA)
All adult criminal matters in Western Australia commence in the Magistrates Court, but serious indictable matters are finalised in the District Court or Supreme Court. If a person wishes to plead guilty to a serious indictable matter, there are a number of procedural steps they must go through before receiving sentence. This article outlines the process of pleading guilty in the higher courts in WA.
How are matters in the higher courts commenced?
Proceedings for indictable offences are commenced by Prosecution Notice, Summons or Arrest in the Magistrates Court. In each case, a Statement of Material Facts must be served on the accused. This is an outline of the allegations. It is essential to carefully consider this document before deciding whether to plead guilty or not guilty. It is also essential that you obtain legal advice about the alleged offence as significant terms of imprisonment are available to the higher courts when sentencing offenders.
What to consider before pleading guilty
When a person is charged with any criminal offence in Western Australia, they have the right to put the prosecution to proof, meaning the prosecution must prove them guilty of all the elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. If you have been charged with serious indictable offences, you should seek legal advice and carefully consider the strength of the prosecution case before deciding to plead guilty. If there are weaknesses in the case against you, or if there are defences available, you may want to consider putting the prosecution to proof.
Fast-track plea of guilty
If you have been charged with a matter that can be finalised in the District Court and after reviewing the Statement of Material Facts and obtaining legal advice you decide on pleading guilty, your matter can proceed by way of a fast-track plea of guilty.
Upon entering that plea in the Magistrates Court, your matter will be committed to the District Court for Sentence Mention. Court-ordered reports such as presentence reports, psychological reports or psychiatric reports can be requested on the day that the guilty plea is entered.
If you enter a fast track plea of guilty, you are likely to receive a significant discount on your sentence. The Sentencing Act 1995 provides that if a person pleads guilty to an offence, the court may reduce the head sentence by up to 25% to recognise the benefits to the state and to any victim or witness resulting from the plea. The earlier the plea is entered, the greater reduction in the sentence may be.
Pleading guilty after District Court Committal
Should you choose to plead guilty after receiving the brief of evidence in a matter that can be finalised in the District Court, your matter will be committed to the District Court for Sentence Mention.
Court-ordered reports such as presentence reports, psychological reports or psychiatric reports can be requested on the day that the guilty plea is entered.
Prior to the sentence mention, the DPP will file an Indictment and a sentencing brief with the court. At the sentence mention, provided the court has received all the reports, you will be given a sentencing date before a District Court Judge.
Pleading guilty after Supreme Court Committal
The procedure differs if you are charged with an indictable offence that must be dealt with by the Supreme Court. On your first court date in the Magistrates Court, your matter will be adjourned to the Stirling Gardens Magistrates Court. The DPP acts as prosecutor in the Stirling Gardens Magistrates Court.
Should you wish to obtain the brief of evidence, then the matter will be adjourned for a Disclosure/Committal Hearing in approximately three months. Should you choose to plead guilty after receiving the disclosure, your matter will be committed to the Supreme Court of Western Australia for Sentence.
Court-ordered reports such as presentence reports, psychological reports or psychiatric reports can be requested when the guilty plea is entered. The DPP will file an Indictment and a sentencing brief with the court prior to the sentencing hearing.
Preparing for Sentencing
If you wish to file any written materials for the court to consider, you usually need to file that material at least two days prior to your sentencing date. Written material you may want to consider filing includes character references, written submissions and medical reports.
A well-written character reference will be very helpful in court. A character reference can help the court appreciate your personal circumstances and the context in which you committed the offences from the perspective of the people who know you.
Steps Taken to Address Offending
If your offending was connected to substance abuse, the court will want to know what steps you have taken to address these issues. If you have sought help from professionals such as your doctor, a counsellor or a psychologist, the court will want confirmation of programs you have been attending and what treatment you have been receiving.
If someone has suffered financial loss as a result of your offending (for example, items stolen or property damaged), you should attempt to repay the victim for the financial loss suffered and be able to provide the court with evidence that you have done so. This will be taken into account as a mitigating factor.
At your sentence, the prosecution will read the Statement of Material Facts and advise the court of whether you have any criminal record. You or your lawyer will then have an opportunity to present your case to the judge. You can explain your background, personal circumstances and the circumstances of the offence. If there were particular pressures on you around the time of the offending, such as financial hardship or mental illness, the court may see those as mitigating factors. It is crucial to have supporting documentation if you want the court to accept submissions about mitigating factors.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.