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Entering an Early Guilty Plea

Criminal offending has severe ramifications on victims and our society as a whole. Accordingly, behaviour deemed to be criminal is treated very seriously by the Courts and sentences ranging from community service or a fine all the way up to imprisonment can be imposed.

The Early Guilty Plea Scheme

Prior to March 2013, there was no incentive provided for a defendant to enter a plea of guilty at the earliest instance. Many defendants would unnecessarily prolong matters in order to avoid the eventuality of their sentence. There is now, however, a new legislated scheme which provides for the reduction of a sentence by up to 40% if a guilty plea is entered at an early stage with the Court. Put simply, the scheme acknowledges a defendant’s willingness to finalise proceedings by way of a guilty plea without unduly or unnecessarily wasting the Court’s time and resources.

The provisions in the scheme (Sections 10B and 10C of the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act 1988 (SA)) came into effect on 11 March 2013 and apply to any proceedings commenced after that date, irrespective of whether the offending occurred prior to the commencement date.

What discount is available?

In the Magistrates Court, section 10B of the Act regulates the discount credit that can be applied to reduce a sentence imposed. Subject to that provision, if a defendant has pleaded guilty to an offence, they may be eligible for the following discount credit:

40% reduction If a guilty plea is entered within the first four weeks after the defendant first appears in court in relation to the offence
30% reduction If a guilty plea is entered more than four weeks after the first appearance but before trial
30% reduction If a guilty plea is entered less than four weeks from the date of trial only if the defendant can satisfy the Court that he or she could not have reasonably pleaded guilty at an earlier stage
10% reduction In any other circumstance where the Court is satisfied that there is a good reason to do so

 

In all other Courts, section 10C of the Act regulates the discount credit that can be applied to reduce a sentence imposed. Subject to that provision, if a defendant has pleaded guilty to an offence, they may be eligible for the following discount credit:

40% reduction If a guilty plea is entered within the first four weeks after the defendant first appears in court in relation to the offence
30% reduction If a guilty plea is entered more than four weeks after the first appearance but before the defendant is committed for trial (ie, when the matter is transferred from the Magistrates Court to the District Court)
30% reduction If a guilty plea is entered after committal for trial but before commencement of the trial if the defendant can satisfy the Court that he or she could not have reasonably pleaded guilty at an earlier stage
20% reduction If a guilty plea is entered during the period after the defendant is committed for trial but no more than twelve weeks after the date fixed for arraignment of the defendant (the first Court date in the District or Supreme Courts)
10% reduction In any other circumstance where the Court is satisfied that there is a good reason to do so

 

It is important to note that section 10B and 10C of the Act do not apply to expiable offences or mandatory minimums as prescribed in the Road Traffic Act 1961 (SA) and Motor Vehicles Act 1959 (SA); that is, you cannot plead guilty to an offence (ie, drink driving) and have your penalty reduced below the mandatory minimum as outlined in the relevant legislation (ie, bypass the mandatory 3, 6 or 12 month minimum disqualification or reduce demerit point loss).

Acting quickly

Given the potential for a significant reduction of a sentence, it is highly important that legal advice is sought promptly after being arrested or receiving a summons so that the maximum discount credit of 40% (if applicable) is not forgone. Naturally, delays in seeking a solicitor or finalising legal aid funding can have a significant impact on the discount you will receive at the time of sentencing.

Please contact us urgently if you or someone you know has been charged with a criminal offence. In the event that you are entering a guilty plea, it is vitally important you receive legal advice as early as possible to preserve your discount credit and maximise any potential reduction of sentence.

Blog post by Dimitri Panayotopoulos

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