Before prison: The criminal court process
Pleading guilty or not guilty
How do I decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty?
It’s important to talk with a lawyer before deciding whether to plead guilty or not guilty.
Usually you have to enter a plea at your second appearance in court. You may need to apply to the court for a few weeks’ delay so you can decide how to plead. Make sure that you’re comfortable with how long you’ve had to decide on your plea, and that you’re comfortable with the plea that you do finally enter.
If you plead guilty it means you agree that you did everything the police say you did, as set out in the police “summary of facts”, and that you’re ready to be sentenced by a judge for it. If you agree with some of what’s in the summary of facts but not all of it, make sure you tell your lawyer – they might be able to get the charges or the summary of facts changed.
Your lawyer will want to check how strong the police’s evidence is before you decide what to plead. Your lawyer will also want to get an indication from the judge of what sentence you’re likely to get (this is called a “sentence indication”).
What happens if I plead guilty?
If you plead guilty, the court will set a date for a sentencing hearing, where a judge will decide what your punishment will be. Some people get bail between pleading guilty and being sentenced.
If you plead guilty you can consider restorative justice options.
What happens if I plead not guilty?
If you plead not guilty, there’ll be a trial to decide whether the evidence is strong enough to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that you’re guilty of the charge. Depending on how serious the charge is, you might get to choose whether a jury decides your case or whether you have a “judge alone” trial with no jury. Your lawyer will explain the choice to you.
Can I change my plea later on?
If you plead not guilty, you can change your plea to guilty at any time up until you’re sentenced. Pleading guilty early can reduce your sentence.
If you plead guilty, it’s very hard to later change your plea to not guilty. You may be able to do this if a lawyer gave you incorrect legal advice or if you have a possible defence to the charge. If you’re considering asking to change your plea to not guilty, you should talk to a lawyer about this as soon as possible.
You won’t be able to change your plea to not guilty after you’ve been sentenced. Once you’ve been sentenced you’ll need to appeal the conviction instead – again, this is very difficult to do.