Should I plead guilty?
Do not plead guilty until you fully understand the police version of events and have received legal advice.
If you plead guilty, the court will hear a summary of the police evidence only.
You, or the duty lawyer acting for you, will be able to tell the magistrate about your personal circumstances.
The magistrate will then decide what penalty you will get.
If you have been charged with drug offences and you are willing to plead guilty, you may be able to complete a diversion program as an alternative to another penalty.
What happens when I plead guilty?
Take these steps to plead guilty after the police have charged you with an offence:
- Find out the police version of events, get legal advice and prepare to plead guilty
- Attend court on your first mention date
- The magistrate reads the charge
- You plead guilty
- The police give their version of events
- You give your version of events
- The magistrate decides your penalty
How do I prepare to plead guilty?
Before pleading guilty you should:
Find out the police version of events
The police officer writes down their version of your alleged offence in a document called a QP9. It is important you understand exactly what you are being charged with and the police's version of events.
By pleading guilty, you are agreeing to the police's version of events.
To get a copy of the QP9 you can:
- ask the police prosecutor to show it to you on your first mention date, or
- ask the duty lawyer to get a copy for you and to read it to you.
If you disagree with any of the police details about your offence, you must tell the duty lawyer or the police prosecutor.
Get legal advice
You need to get legal advice about how to prepare for court and your likely penalty, even if you will represent yourself on the day.
Prepare what you want to say
Think about what you want to say in court. Write it down and take your notes to court — see the information the court may want to hear in the sample information for the court (PDF - 88 KB). If you prefer, the duty lawyer may be able to speak for you (unless you are appearing on minor traffic offences).
Prepare information to help you in court
- Get written character references explaining the type of person you are. These could be from your family, friends, teachers, sport captains or coaches or other people who know you well — see the sample character reference (PDF - 72 KB).
- Get a letter from your employer showing you have a job and are a good worker — see the sample letter from your employer (PDF - 74 KB).
- Take financial information the magistrate may need to know, like your weekly wage and financial commitments.
If drug or alcohol problems were one of the reasons you offended, it is a good idea to arrange counselling.
Counselling helps you with your drug or alcohol problems and shows the magistrate you are serious about not reoffending.
You should start counselling before you plead guilty or tell the court you are prepared to go to counselling.
If you have started counselling, take a letter from your counsellor or social worker that explains the counselling you are receiving. Or, if they can, ask your counsellor to come to court so the magistrate can ask them questions.
Visit the court to see how it works
It is a good idea to try and visit the court before you have to appear before the magistrate to see what happens and learn how the process works. This will help you to feel more confident when your court date arrives.
How do I plead guilty in court?
1. The magistrate reads the charge
Your name is called. You stand at the bar table in front of the magistrate so you are facing the magistrate (beside the duty lawyer if the duty lawyer is appearing for you).
The magistrate reads the charge and asks if you are pleading guilty or not guilty.
You, or the duty lawyer, tell the magistrate you are pleading guilty.
2. The police read their version of events
The police prosecutor reads the police version of events.
The police will tell the magistrate if you have any previous criminal convictions or a traffic history. You are entitled to see these if you want.
If you have a criminal record or traffic history and there is something you do not agree with, tell the duty lawyer or the magistrate.
3. You give your version of events
The magistrate will ask you if you have anything to say about the police version of events and if you think they are correct.
If there is something you do not agree with that might affect the penalty, you should tell the magistrate or get the duty lawyer to tell the magistrate.
Remember, if you are pleading guilty to the charge and you say something that suggests you don't believe you are guilty, the magistrate will not accept your guilty plea.
Tell the magistrate anything that may explain how or why you came to commit the offence.
Remember, the magistrate does not want to hear excuses or things that are clearly untrue.
You need to:
- explain why you committed the offence
- give any information that might explain how or why you committed the offence (mitigating circumstances), for example:
- you may have been very depressed and taking medication that affected your judgment
- you may have had a death in your family
- your parents may have kicked you out of home and you were left homeless.
- give the court clerk any supporting information such as your character references, a letter from your employer or medical reports
- provide the magistrate with any relevant personal details, for example:
- if you have children you support
- if you are employed
- your level of education
- if you could pay a fine or do community service
- if you are attending or are prepared to attend any courses such as anger management and drug or alcohol counselling
- say sorry for what you have done if you really mean it — for example, you might say, "I realise I have acted stupidly and I apologise Your Honour".
4. The magistrate decides your penalty
The magistrate listens to what you or the duty lawyer has to say and decides on the penalty. Your penalty is based on your offence, your prior convictions and your plea — see a list of possible penalties.
You or the duty lawyer can ask for no conviction to be recorded if it is appropriate. The magistrate will usually only decide not to record your conviction if you have no previous criminal history and if a conviction would affect your work or study.