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How criminal sentencing works


Starting points, uplifts and discounts: How a sentence is decided

Case: [2005] 3 NZLR 372 (CA)

If you’re convicted of an offence (either having pleaded guilty or been found guilty at a trial), the judge will first set a “starting point” sentence. The starting point is about what you did in your particular case. Many offences will have a starting point of time in prison. In setting the starting point, the Judge will look at the features of the offending that made it worse (“aggravating factors”) or not as bad (“mitigating factors”). For example, if your victim was very young, this may be an aggravating factor.

After setting this starting point, the judge will consider you and your particular situation. The judge may apply:

  • increases (“uplifts”) for any things that make the fact you offended worse (“aggravating factors”). For example, if you have a prior convictions for the same type of offending the judge may increase your sentence.
  • reductions (“discounts”) for mitigating factors relating to you. For example, if you pled guilty early or said sorry (“expressing remorse”).

Because of this process the starting point of your sentence may end up being quite different from the sentence you receive. For example, the Judge may begin by saying you have a starting point of 2 and a half years imprisonment, but then after considering your personal situation and applying uplifts and discounts, may sentence you to 18-months home detention.

How much will my sentence be reduced if I plead guilty?

Sentencing Act 2002, s 9(2)(b) Case: [2010] NZSC 135

In general, the earlier you plead guilty, the greater the reduction (“discount”) you’re likely to get for pleading guilty. However, other factors in your particular case will be taken into account too, such as how much you’ve admitted responsibility for the offending and shown that you’re sorry.

The maximum discount you’ll be able to get for a guilty plea is 25%.

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