Pleading for your Life! General Tips on Pleading Guilty
PLEADING FOR YOUR LIFE! GENERAL TIPS ON PLEADING GUILTY
It is confronting to be faced with criminal charges, and it is natural to want to fight them, to avoid the punishment which will impact your life. It thus may be surprising to learn that it is often better to plead guilty. This is because the majority of the time there is no case to fight. The police breath test you, and you breath over the limit? Well unless your drinks have been spiked there is not much you can really say. A stationary camera sees you running a red light? Well unless you can prove that there were exceptional circumstances, or maybe that your breaks were cut, you cannot really deny the offence.
Certainly, this is not true for all cases. There will be matters where legitimate defences arise, or where the Police made a mistake, and in these cases it would be worthwhile fighting the charges. Or, for more serious criminal matters e.g. murder, it I may be worthwhile fighting the matter, given the consequences for not doing so are dire. But these are the minority.
Moreover, the Magistrates’ Court, which hears most criminal matters in Victoria, is overworked. Magistrates’ do not want somebody slowing the process down by bitterly fighting a parking fine. They want to clear the court list, and this means offering reduced sentences by pleading guilty.
Okay, so you decide to plead guilty. What exactly is involved? Pleading guilty is simple. It is you explaining to a judge that you are guilty of the offences with which you have been charged (or at least the ones you admit you are guilty for). But, more than this, pleading guilty is a performance. It is you (or your lawyer) explaining to the judge that despite your actions, you are a good and remorseful person, who should not be punished (or only punished lightly).
Ok, so now you know what pleading guilty entails. How should you go about it? Well, how long is a piece of string? The rhetorical question aside, there really is no universal answer, as everything will be context specific. However, there are a few general points to consider.
Stop committing the offence! This may sound obvious but you would be surprised. It is nearly impossible to tell a judge that you are sorry for your actions, and that you are a changed person, if you keep committing the same charge.
Take actions to show remorse and acceptance of your wrongdoing: It is easy to say you are sorry for your actions, but it is harder to demonstrate this. What looks good when pleading guilty is taking actions which show you are sorry, and that you understand what you did was wrong. Drug and drinking support groups, safe driving courses and counselling are all good indicators of a genuine effort at making amends.
Take action now! Following on from the above, show initiative. It will make a far better impression with a judge if you proactively take steps to correct your behavior, rather than waiting for them to order you into corrective programs.
Obtain Character References: Character references show that you are liked, involved in the community, and that you have people to support and vouch for you. Spend some time thinking about who you can ask for a reference. Ideally, it is someone who knows you well, who has some authority or respect in the community, but who is not so closely associated that they might be seen as biased. Your doctor, priest, high school teacher, friend who owns their own business, etc. are all good ideas.
Have a support person in court: Like character references, having a support person in court (where possible) shows the judge that you have a support network, people who are committed to helping you stay on the right side of the law.
Dress appropriately! Court is a formal place. This does not necessarily mean you have to wear a suit, but take some time with your appearance. Brush your hair, put on a nice shirt, shave, etc.
Giving an effective guilty plea relies on reading the specific issues of your case and tailoring your plea to address them. However, there are some universal actions which you can take, which will help paint you in a better light, and which might just be enough to help you get a better outcome.
This article is intended only to provide a summary of the subject matter covered. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to render legal advice. No reader should act on the basis of any matter contained in this article without first obtaining specific professional advice.
DISCLAIMER: We accept no responsibility for any action taken after reading this article. It is intended as a guide only and is not a substitute for the expert legal advice you can get from De Marco Lawyers and other relevant experts.