Pleading Guilty in Tasmania
When a person is charged with offences in Tasmania, they will have to decide whether to plead guilty or contest the charges. There are a number of things you should consider before pleading guilty to offences. This article sets out the processes for pleading guilty in the lower courts in Tasmania and the issues that should be taken into account before doing so.
Should you be pleading guilty?
Before anyone enters a plea of guilty, they should think carefully about whether they should, in fact, be pleading guilty to the charge. There are several questions to consider here.
Firstly, are you actually guilty? This question may seem simple, but there may be more to it than you realise. Many offences have both physical elements and a mental element (such as intention, recklessness or foresight). For a person to be found guilty, the court must be satisfied that they fulfil both the physical elements (actus reus) and the mental element (mens rea).
Secondly, is the prosecution set of facts accurate? Before pleading guilty to charges, you should make sure you agree with the police summary as you will be sentenced based on what it says. If there are statements in the police precis that you dispute, you or your lawyer should try to negotiate for the facts to be amended prior to pleading guilty.
Thirdly, do you have a legal defence? Even if you committed the physical acts making up the offence, you may not be guilty because of the circumstances. For example, were you acting in self-defence or under compulsion? It is always a good idea to seek legal advice as to whether there are any legal defences that apply to your case before pleading guilty.
Pleading guilty in the Local Court
If you are an adult and your charges are being finalised in the summary jurisdiction, you will be appearing in the Magistrates Court. You will either be summonsed to attend court on a future date or arrested and either granted bail or remanded. On the day that you appear at court, you will have a choice as to whether to finalise the charges on the day or seek an adjournment. It is often advisable to seek an adjournment as this will allow you time to retain a lawyer and prepare your case.
When you plead guilty in the Magistrates Court, the charge will be read out in court and you will be asked how you plead. The prosecution will then read the summary of facts and if you have a criminal or traffic record, it will be handed up to the magistrate. The prosecutor will make submissions on the impact of the offence and the appropriate penalty, highlighting any aggravating factors in the circumstances of your offending.
The defence will then make submissions, highlighting any mitigating factors and tell the court the circumstances surrounding the offences, your life circumstances and any steps you have taken to address the issues that contributed to your offending. You will have the opportunity to hand up supporting documents, like character references and reports.
The magistrate will then decide on the appropriate penalty. This may be a good behaviour bond, a fine, a community-based order or a term of imprisonment.
Pleading guilty in the Children’s Court
If you are under 18 and your charges are being dealt with in the summary jurisdiction, you will be appearing in the Children’s Court. When a child attends court in relation to a criminal matter, they must be accompanied by a responsible adult. This must be an adult who is responsible for their day-to-day care, usually a parent. A young person’s court matter will not be dealt with by the court if a responsible adult is not present.
When a young person pleads guilty or is found guilty of offences in Tasmania, they will be sentenced under the Youth Justice Act 1997. Under that act, a magistrate can impose a range of penalties, including fines, good behaviour bonds, community service orders, and terms of youth detention.
Serious indictable matters
Serious indictable matters cannot be finalised in the summary jurisdiction. They must be dealt with on indictment, meaning the matter must be committed to the Supreme Court and finalised via a plea hearing or a jury trial. Examples of serious indictable offences are murder, manslaughter and rape.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.