In 2013, the South Australian Parliament amended our sentencing legislation to allow defendants to receive significant “discounts” on their sentences for pleading guilty.
Given the extremely large volume of criminal cases that make their way through the courts each year, Parliament has attempted to find ways to incentivise the early resolution of cases.
Defendants have an opportunity to consider the case against them and plead guilty early and obtain a large sentencing discount, or take the matter through towards a trial (which is their absolute right) but if they are subsequently found guilty at trial, they will receive no sentencing discount.
The rationale behind an early plea discount scheme is complicated. I remain concerned that many people accused of crimes will feel compelled or persuaded to plead guilty to offences they did not commit, simply to have the matter dealt with expeditiously and also obtain a large sentencing discount. The criminal justice system is not assisted by innocent people pleading guilty to potentially serious crimes simply out of convenience.
"...any guilty plea within four weeks of the first court attendance will attract a sentencing discount of up to 40%."
The legislative changes to the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act establish how much discount a defendant might receive at different periods throughout their litigation. For example, any guilty plea within four weeks of the first court attendance will attract a sentencing discount of up to 40%. That is, the Magistrate might impose a sentence of one year and eight months imprisonment for an offence of indecent assault (this totals 20 months), but because the defendant pleaded within four weeks, they can receive a 40% discount which reduces the 20 months to 12 months.
Under the legal changes, the 40% sentencing reduction reduces the longer the litigation proceeds. If the defendant decides to plead guilty a year later on the morning their trial was due to commence, they might only receive a small sentencing discount.
These sentencing discounts for early pleas can have profound impacts for people charged with criminal offences. It is therefore prudent and crucial that people seek legal advice as soon as they are formally charged so their solicitor can advise them about the benefits of early pleas, and structure submissions to further reduce the overall sentence.
Today’s article is written by Associate Michael Irvine. Michael now practices in Civil Litigation and Employment Law. He has previous experience in the field of criminal law. If you have any queries or require assistance in criminal law, please feel free to get in touch directly with one of our lawyers practicing in that field; Toni Monteleone or Nes Alexandropoulos.