Road Traffic Offences

Discounts For Early Guilty Pleas in South Australia

South Australians who plead guilty to a criminal offence within four weeks of appearing in Court could now receive sentence reductions of up to 40 percent.

South Australians who plead guilty to a criminal offence within four weeks of appearing in Court could now receive sentence reductions of up to 40 percent. 

The rationale behind these significant Criminal Law amendments is that people should be rewarded for saving the Courts’ time and costs, while also preventing the prosecution from having to go through the effort of gathering evidence and preparing for a trial.

Prior to these amendments, it was common to receive a 25 percent discount on a sentence for an early guilty plea. Parliament has now set a specific regime where the maximum discount is set at 40 percent if a person pleads guilty within four weeks of their first appearance in Court.

The amendments provide a framework for Judges and Magistrates in the hope of easing the pressure for the South Australian court system.

The discounts apply to the sentence given to a person who pleads guilty. A sentence does not only include imprisonment. The discounts can also in some circumstances apply to a fine, length of licence disqualification or community service.

There will be examples where people cannot plead guilty early through no fault of their own. These people will still be eligible to receive the discounts in circumstances where they have not sought to delay the proceedings.

For example, if the prosecution is late in providing someone with a summary of the case against him/her, they will not be ineligible to receive a discount if they enter a plea after the four week period.

There are certain crimes that have minimum sentences that cannot be discounted. For example, a conviction for aggravated driving without due care attracts a minimum licence disqualification period of six months. Even if a person was to plead guilty within four weeks of their first Court appearance, the six months of disqualification cannot be reduced. However, anything over and above that period can be eligible to discount.

A person is also unlikely to be offered the maximum discount of 40 percent if the guilt is clear and obvious and there was seemingly no choice but to plead guilty.

It is anticipated that the full 40 percent discount is likely to be reserved for not only those who are willing to enter an early guilty plea but also those that cooperate with Police and provide helpful information.

The new discounts for early guilty pleas are not guaranteed and will depend on the circumstances of each case which will ultimately be at the Magistrate or Judge’s discretion. This is why it is crucial for a person charged with a criminal offence or offences to seek legal advice early and find out whether the discounts apply to them.

Even though the potential discounts are a great incentive, it is important to not rush in to an early guilty plea as there is some risk involved. Everyone is entitled to the presumption that they are innocent until proven guilty, and further, entitled to require the prosecution to prove the alleged crime. For that reason, it is important for those who are charged with a criminal offence to be cautious, particularly in situations where there may be a lack of evidence.

Now that these laws have been introduced, the message to people charged with a criminal offence is to seek legal advice as soon as possible. A lawyer can request and obtain the required documents and liaise with the prosecution. With a lawyer, you will at least get the opportunity to read, understand and get advice about the allegations and potential ramifications before making a decision about an early guilty plea.

For advice about your criminal law matter contact your nearest TGB office