What is credit for a guilty plea?
Credit for a guilty plea basically means that if you plead guilty at any stage prior to the trial commencing, in most cases, you should be entitled to a reduction in sentence for your guilty plea. The amount of reduction will depend upon at what stage you entered your guilty plea.
If you plead guilty at the very first opportunity you will be entitled to a one third reduction to sentence. In most cases, the court will consider the first court hearing to be the first opportunity for you to enter your plea.
After the first hearing, the reduction in sentence for a guilty plea will be a on a sliding scale between one-quarter to a maximum of one-tenth if you enter you guilty plea on the day of your trial but before it has started. If you change your plea to guilty during the course of the trial it is unlikely that you would be entitled to any reduction in sentence.
If you are unsure as to how you should plead you should always consult a solicitor as if you are going to plead guilty it is to your advantage to do so as soon as possible as it could make a significant difference to the type or length of sentence that you will receive.
Is there anything I can do to help for my sentencing hearing?
Depending upon the type of case and your background, in some cases it can be very useful for you to obtain character references including employment references. This can be useful for example, if you have no previous convictions at all, no recent previous convictions or no previous convictions that are of a similar nature and wish to persuade the court that the offence/s for which you are being sentenced for is out of character for you.
Another example would be if there are extenuating circumstances that are relevant to the offence, for example, you are suffering from a mental health condition which whilst doesn’t amount to a defence in itself, it is mitigation as to why you committed the offence/s.
Likewise if your offence is drug or alcohol related and since the commission of the offence you have taken positive steps to address any drink/drug problems it can be very helpful for you to get evidence of this.
If you have a solicitor, they will be able to advise you about what you can do to assist with your sentence.
What is mitigation?
Mitigation relates to either the offence or the offender or both. The purpose of mitigation is to seek to persuade the court to give you the most lenient sentence possible and whilst you can do this yourself, in most cases it is better for you to have a solicitor or barrister to mitigate on your behalf as the sentencing process can be a very skilled exercise and what is said on your behalf can make a difference to the type or length of sentence that you receive. The purpose of mitigation is not to provide you with a defence but to provide the court with an explanation as to why you committed the offence and to place it in the context of your personal circumstances.
Examples of mitigating factors relating to the offence include; that you were provoked, that the offence was spontaneous and not pre-planned or that you suffer from a mental illness that had an impact on the offence.
Examples of mitigating features relating to you would include; that you have no previous convictions, that you have demonstrated that you are genuinely remorseful for how you behaved, or that you have taken steps to address any underlying reasons relating to the offence.
Sentence Council Guidelines
Most offences now have sentencing guidelines that help the magistrates or Judge decide upon the most appropriate sentence for you and in most cases, the judge or magistrates must follow the relevant sentence guideline.
The guidelines provide various factors that the court must take into consideration when deciding the length and type of sentence and this is broadly based upon the harm caused by you and how culpable or blameworthy you are. They also identify any aggravating or mitigating features relating to the offence and to your personal circumstances that should be taken into account. If you pleaded guilty to the offence, in most cases, the court must also give you a reduction in sentence for your guilty plea.
Whilst in most cases the guidelines must be followed, your defence advocate will seek to persuade the court to place your sentence in the lowest bracket possible.
You can view the sentence guidelines at www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk