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Pleading Guilty in the Magistrates Court

What does pleading guilty mean?

When someone admits guilt to a charge which is a criminal offence it is clear that the person agrees that you he or she did the offence and that the facts as stated by the police are true.

The offence committed is written down in a prosecution notice and handed to the individual concerned.  A document referred to as the "statement of material facts" is where the information is recorded. The accused should check this statement before pleading guilty to make sure the facts fit the offence. It is advised that at this point a lawyer should be consulted before pleading guilty takes place.

Is a lawyer necessary?

It is possible to attend a court without a lawyer but it is not advisable if the offence is serious. A person who is to attend the Supreme or District Court should find a lawyer to represent them. In the case of the Children's Court it is possible to opt for the duty lawyer to undertake the representation in preference to hiring one’s own lawyer but this is not necessary in minor offences.

When a guilty plea is lodged in court what happens?

First of all the charge is read out and if the person pleads guilty the prosecutor will be asked by the court to recite the ‘statement of material facts.’ The prosecutor might also make a comment regarding the offence’s seriousness and the suggested penalty which is "sentence".

At this point a "plea in mitigation" can be presented to the court before sentencing takes place. This is when the defendant can offer an explanation for committing the offence. Sometimes this can cause the court to adjust the sentence particularly where a fine is involved which could be changed to a community service order. When sentencing takes place the court may have to impose the minimum sentence requirement for the offence.

For this reason it is important to know the offence you have been charged with and to seek legal advice about the possible sentence before you appear in court. Then you will know whether you should be represented and also be better prepared for your plea in mitigation if you are going to represent yourself. Magistrates Courts can impose any of the following:

  • No penalty at all
  • A Community Based Order
  • A conditional Release
  • A fine
  • A suspended prison term
  • Imprisonment.

The court can also demand other things such as paying victims compensation, cancelling a driver’s licence and ask for drugs to be destroyed. Spent conviction orders can be dealt with too and these normally take place when the accused is being sentenced for another offence.

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