Blog post by Tom Cuthbertson
Should I Plead Guilty?
Pleading guilty to an offence, even when you believe you are not guilty or that the Crown may struggle to prove the allegation is termed a ‘plea of convenience’ and can be attractive in saving time and money, particularly if the offending alleged is very minor.
Guilty pleas also often arise out of the process of ‘charge bargaining’ – whereby serious charges are downgraded to lesser charges on the basis of a guilty plea. Charge bargaining can be a very useful tool for defendants; robust negotiations can often be the difference between a term of imprisonment and a lesser sentence. It is, however, important to carefully look at the consequences of a guilty plea – sometimes a plea of convenience can be anything but convenient and serious consequences can flow from them.
In the first instance, particularly in the case of charge bargaining from serious ‘major indictable’ offending to minor indictable offending, it must be remembered that, in South Australia, both Magistrates and Judges cannot bind themselves to any sentencing indication.
It is also imperative to recognise that even if the prosecution agrees that they will not seek immediate imprisonment, this does not bind or necessarily persuade the Magistrate or Judge. It can and often is the case that while the defence lawyer and prosecutor agree on the appropriate range of penalties, the Magistrate or Judge determines that something more severe is required and a defendant is gaoled. It is also important to remember that if someone has a criminal history, even as a youth, this can impact the sentence to be imposed depending on the nexus between the old and new offending.
It is crucial to consider the effect of a conviction by entering a guilty plea on antecedent records as, depending on the offence, this can have severe consequences on one’s ability to be employed in particular places and therefore can have far-reaching ramifications into the future – particularly if one is seeking to become a lawyer, doctor, licensee of a bar or restaurant, security guard, member of the Australian Defence Force or a great many other roles.
While a quick and easy guilty plea can seem like a simple decision at the time, one must be fully informed of the potential impact on his or her life and livelihood into the future. If you have been charged with a criminal offence and require legal advice, contact Culshaw Miller Criminal Lawyers on (08) 8464 0033.