The Plea of Guilty and its Importance in Sentencing

201410.21
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At Slades & Parsons, we work to get the best possible outcome for our client. It is important to understand there are occasions when pleading guilty to an offence may give you the best outcome.

This extract from a recent decision in the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Victoria, demonstrates how a plea of guilty may lead to a discount (or reduction) of any sentence imposed in criminal case. In many cases, matters resolve and a plea of guilty may be entered. The timing of a plea of guilty is also relevant.

Our lawyers are experienced in assessing the evidence presented by the police or prosecution to determine the strength of the case against you. We ensure at Slades & Parsons that you are provided with the necessary information to make an informed decision.  

Reid (a Pseudonym) v The Queen [2014] VSCA 145 (1 July 2014)

“In my opinion, there is a powerful public interest in giving recognition to a plea of guilty even in the face of a very strong prosecution case. Charged individuals faced with the choice of either pleading guilty or electing to contest a trial need to know that a plea of guilty will find real, discernible and palpable recognition in the sentence passed. Whether it is described as a ‘discount’ or by some other epithet, an offender who pleads guilty almost without exception should be given credit for doing so, that being reflected in a significant amelioration of the sentence.

For the reasons which hereafter appear, the following are the relevant matters which should inform a determination of the extent of the discount to be given for a plea of guilty:

  1. A discount for the utilitarian benefit of the plea must always be allowed on the sentence to be imposed, save for the exceptional category of case.
  2. The exceptional case arises where the gravity of the offending conduct is of such an order that no discount from the maximum sentence is appropriate.
  3. The strength of the Crown case is irrelevant to the discount to be allowed for the utilitarian benefit of the plea as it does not bear upon the objective benefits of the plea.
  4. A greater discount for the utilitarian benefit may be justified where the plea involves very considerable savings of costs to the community or where some other very significant benefit can be seen to flow from the plea.
  5. It is always a question for the sentencing judge whether remorse, a willingness to facilitate the course of justice and an acceptance of responsibility are to be inferred from a plea of guilty.
  6. Where there is evidence or a submission accepted by the sentencing judge as to the unqualified existence of these subjective criteria, they should be fully reflected in the discount.
  7. The utilitarian benefits, which flow from the plea, may also inform the extent of the discount to be allowed for the offender’s willingness to facilitate the course of justice.
  8. The weakness of the Crown case, if apparent, may also inform the extent of the offender’s willingness to facilitate the course of justice.
  9. The sentencing judge will not need to separately deal with the objective criteria of the utilitarian benefit of the plea and the subjective criteria, unless there is reason to conclude that less than the full discount should be allowed for the subjective criteria.
  10. The strength of the Crown case can only support an inference that these subjective criteria played little or no, role in the decision to plead guilty where the state of the contextual evidence on the plea permits such a conclusion.

As Redlich JA and Curtain AJA make clear, a discount for the utilitarian benefit of the plea must always be allowed, save for the exceptional case where the gravity of the offending is such that there should be no discount from the maximum. The respondent drew attention to the fact that the applicant did not plead guilty until the morning of what was to be a contested committal. …The fact remains, however, that the case ultimately ‘settled’, with the applicant accepting his guilt in relation to very serious offending at a relatively early stage. His acceptance of responsibility relieved the victim of the trauma of being cross-examined at committal and on a trial, and the community was saved the expense of a contested committal and trial.”  Priest JA