Pleading Guilty in the Magistrates Court (WA)
If a person is accused of a crime in Western Australia, they must resolve the matter by either pleading guilty and undergoing sentencing or disputing the charges. Simple offences, such as traffic or public disorder offences, are dealt with by a magistrate. If the person is over 18, the case will be heard in the Magistrates Court, and if they are under 18, it will be heard in the Children’s Court. In the Magistrates Court, a person who pleads guilty may choose to represent themselves or have a lawyer represent them. This article focuses on the process of pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court in WA.
Offences that carry a maximum penalty of no more than two years imprisonment are known as simple offences. More serious offences that attract longer penalties are handled in the District Court and Supreme Court and are known as crimes.
Simple offences include traffic violations such as driving under the influence and driving while disqualified, as well as public disorder offences like offensive or disorderly conduct.
Things to consider before pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court
Before you finalise a criminal charge by pleading guilty in the WA Magistrates Court or Children’s Court, you should consider the following.
Are you actually guilty?
Although this may seem like a simple question, there may be more to it than you realise. It is unwise for an individual to plead guilty to an offence unless they are absolutely certain that all the elements of the offence can be proven. In many cases, this will involve both a physical act (actus reus) and a mental component (mens rea). It is always advisable to seek legal advice before entering a guilty plea.
When a person is charged with an offence, they will be given a charge sheet together with a statement of alleged facts. Prior to pleading guilty, you should thoroughly go through these documents and ensure that they are an accurate summary of what occurred.
If there is anything you disagree with in the police summary, you should ask the prosecution if they would be willing to amend the facts to better reflect what happened. It is crucial that the police facts accurately align with your recollection of the events as if you plead guilty, you will be sentenced based on this document. The defence will not be allowed to make any submissions in court that contradict what is stated in the police summary.
Is there duplication between charges?
In the event that an individual has been charged with two or more offences, it is possible that there may be overlap or duplication between the charges. If you are pleading guilty, the prosecution may be willing to withdraw one of the charges and accept a plea to the remaining charge. An instance where this sometimes occurs is when a person is charged with both possession and supply of cannabis.
There are cases where the prosecution may not agree to withdraw any of the charges. Nevertheless, it is still worth discussing the possibility with them before entering a guilty plea.
Can the prosecution prove it?
Once a person has determined that they are guilty of an offence, they should consider whether the prosecution can prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to assess this, it may be necessary to adjourn the case and obtain the brief of evidence to see precisely what evidence they are relying on.
If the brief of evidence demonstrates that the prosecution’s case is weak, it may be advisable to enter a plea of not guilty. Alternatively, the weaknesses in the case may be able to be used to negotiate with the prosecution for the withdrawal of some of the charges.
Are there any defences?
Although an individual may have committed the physical act that comprises the offence, there may still be a viable legal defence available. For instance, the action could have been an accident, or it may have been carried out in response to an emergency. In order to identify any potential defences that may be available, it is recommended that one seek legal counsel before entering a guilty plea.
Are there mitigating factors?
If an individual decides to plead guilty in the Magistrates Court in WA, they or their legal representative will be required to present a plea in mitigation. During the plea, the person informs the court of the circumstances of the offence as well as their personal background. If there are mitigating circumstances, they can highlight them and seek leniency from the court.
Mitigating circumstances differ from a defence in that they do not excuse the offence, but rather provide a context for the offence that can help to explain it (though the offence is still deserving of punishment, but potentially a lesser punishment).
During the plea in mitigation, the individual should provide details about their work history and educational background. Additionally, they may present character references from individuals who know them and can speak to their character and history. They should also highlight any specific pressures or circumstances that contributed to the offence.
If the offence was linked to alcohol or drug use, the court will take into account any steps the individual has taken to address this since the offence. Similarly, if the individual has made restitution for the offence, such as by paying for property damage, this will also be a relevant mitigating factor. If the individual is experiencing financial difficulties, they should inform the court of this as it may impact the decision to impose a fine.
Court etiquette when pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court
Arriving early to the Western Australia Magistrates Court dressed conservatively and neatly is advisable. It is also recommended to keep your schedule open for the entire day, as matters may not be addressed at their scheduled time. If you plan on pleading guilty to traffic offences that may result in your license being disqualified, avoid driving to court.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.