If a person pleads “guilty” in a criminal case, there will be an opportunity to address the Court before sentencing. This oral address is made, usually by the offender’s lawyer, in an endeavor to ensure the minimum sentence possible in the circumstances and to assist the Court in sentencing the offender.
The representations made by a lawyer in these circumstances on behalf of the accused are called a plea in mitigation.
The offence is accepted to have occurred and the lawyer is not denying the offence occurred; rather he is trying to seek the best outcome after pleading guilty.
What does pleading guilty mean?
If you plead guilty to a criminal offence (charge) it means you accept that you committed the offence and accept the facts as alleged by the police or other prosecuting body.
The offence is contained in the prosecution notice. The prosecution facts are contained in a document called the “statement of material facts”.
You should check what is in this statement before you plead guilty to be sure you agree with the prosecution’s version of what happened.
If you do not agree with the facts in the statement, you should seek legal advice before you plead guilty. It is prudent to contact your lawyer ahead of the Court date so he can make arrangements to attend Court and see the papers.
The value of a lawyer at Court
If the elements of the offence are made out, and this is checked from the facts sheet, then a determination should be made by the lawyer as to whether the client actually agrees with the version of the facts that are set out in the Facts Sheet.
What is a plea in mitigation?
After a person pleads “guilty” in a criminal matter and before the Court passes sentence, you or your lawyer will be given an opportunity to speak. This is called presenting a “plea in mitigation”.
A “plea in mitigation” is an opportunity to provide information that will help you when the Court is deciding on the appropriate sentence. As part of the plea in mitigation, you may explain why you committed the offence and tell the Court about your background and personal circumstances in an endeavor to ensure the minimum sentence possible in the circumstances.
This is best done by a lawyer familiar with the issues of interest to the judicial officer concerned as it also helps to assist the Court in sentencing the offender.
You can also say something about the sentence that the Court could impose. For example, if the Court is considering a fine, it would be useful for it to know that you are not working and will have difficulty paying a fine. The Court can then consider giving you a community work order instead.
These can be over-rated but in essence, it is better to have them available than not have them at all.
Consider the following matters in relation to references:
- Try to have the referee be a person of good standing within the community;
- Any reference should:
- consider the nature of the offence, that is acknowledge the offence in the reference
- be addressed to “the Presiding Magistrate” (or Judge as it may be);
- clearly acknowledge the referee’s specific awareness of all of the charges;
- express how long the referee has known the offender;
- express how the referee came to know the offender (ie social, work, academic setting);
- express positivity in relation to the offender’s character.
If you are to appear in Court and think you are in need of legal help it is wise to contact an experienced lawyer and have a no obligation chat.
You do not want to appear in Court to find that proper representation might have assisted or that a guilty plea was accepted in circumstances where there may have been other factors that could have helped you.
If you know someone who needs this sort of legal assistance ask them to call us on (02) 9818 2888 or email [email protected].