Pleading Guilty in the Magistrates Court (Qld)

When a person in Queensland is charged with summary offences, the matter will need to be finalised in the Magistrates Court. This may occur by pleading guilty and proceeding to be sentenced or by contesting the matter and going through a contested hearing. This article deals with the process of pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court in Queensland.

Pleading Guilty in the Magistrates Court Online

If a person in Queensland receives a summons or complaint requiring them to attend court in relation to a summary offence, they may decide to finalise the matter by pleading guilty online. This is also referred to as dealing with a matter ex parte (meaning ‘with one party only’).

Summary offences are minor offences like traffic offences and public disorder offences such as disorderly behaviour and public nuisance. These offences are finalised in front of a magistrate. More serious offences, which are known as indictable offences, are finalised in the District Court or Supreme Court (or by a magistrate with the consent of both parties). Indictable offences cannot be finalised online. 

If you want to plead guilty to an offence online, you must submit your online guilty plea at least two business days prior to the date the matter is listed. Your guilty plea will be read out to the court. The magistrate may deal with the matter ex parte or adjourn it to another date and require you to attend court, depending on the circumstances.

If the matter is dealt with in the defendant’s absence, you will be contacted by the State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER), informing you of the penalty that has been imposed and the offender levy that you are required to pay.

Do I Need A Lawyer?

A lot of people represent themselves when pleading guilty to summary offences in the Magistrates Court. There are, however, many advantages to having a lawyer.

A lawyer will be able to assess the strength of the prosecution case and identify whether there are any available legal defences. They will also be able to negotiate on your behalf, which may result in charges being withdrawn or the police facts being changed to reflect your memory of what happened.

Things To Consider Prior To Pleading Guilty In The Magistrates Court

Before anyone pleads guilty to criminal offences, there are several things they should consider.

Are you actually guilty?

The question of whether a person is guilty of an offence may be more complicated than it appears. Many offences are made up of both a physical element (the actus reus) and a mental element (the mens rea). A person may have committed the physical act but may not fulfil the mental element of the offence. Alternately, there may be a legal defence available to them.

Have you been charged with the correct offence?

In some cases, police may charge a person with one offence where another charge would more accurately reflect their level of culpability. When this occurs, it may be possible to resolve the situation by talking to the prosecution and asking them if they would be willing to substitute the other charge. It may also be advisable to contest the charge on the basis that the offence is not made out on the facts.

Can the prosecution prove it?

If a person is guilty of the offence they have been charged with, they should still consider whether the prosecution can prove this in court. This may require the matter to be adjourned so that the brief of evidence can obtained to see what material the prosecution is relying on. If the case is strong, it usually makes sense to plead guilty. If it is a weak case, the accused may decide to plead not guilty or try to negotiate the withdrawal of some or all of the charges.

Be thoroughly Prepared Before Pleading Guilty In The Magistrates Court

Before a person pleads guilty, they should gather all the relevant supporting documentation they can find to put before the court. This may include character references from people who know them and are aware of the nature of the charges. Such references should state how the writer knows the accused and their opinion of the person. It is important that the reference clearly states that the writer is aware of the offences the person is to be sentenced for. Character references are most persuasive when they are provided by employers, colleagues and fellow students. References from family members and friends are not given a lot of weight. 

The defence should also consider whether there were any mitigating factors in the accused’s offending and provide the court with documentation of anything they have done to address it. Mitigating factors are pressures and circumstances that contributed to the offending but do not excuse it. For example, if a person was struggling an alcohol or drug problem and this was a factor in their offending, they should show the court evidence of the steps they have taken to address their issues, such as having drug and alcohol counselling or engaging with support programs.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

Author

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection, domestic violence and family law in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
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