How to Reduce Your Sentence

Posted by Charlotte Wheatley on 31 July 2013

How to Reduce Your Sentence

Deciding to plead guilty? Make your choice while the iron is hot. Sentencing discounts may be available to those who take the right steps after they’ve committed a crime – including an early plea of guilty.

A degree of leniency is shown to offenders depending on how they respond to their crime.  Not only can a discount reduce the length of a sentence, but it can even diminish the type of penalty applied.

However, the decision to plead guilty or not guilty is one of the most important decisions in the court process. Before you make that decision, you should seek proper legal advice and nothing in this article should be viewed as legal advice.

Two main sentencing “discounts” include a discount for pleading guilty as well as a recognition of certain post-offending conduct.

Pleading Guilty

A plea of guilty is an acknowledgement to the court that you are accepting all of the elements (or ingredients) of the offence.  Making this decision isn’t always as easy as it seems. There are many things to consider including your available defences, the strength of the case against you and the legal fees involved. However another important point is how your plea directly affects the ultimate sentence.

The law makes it clear that the onus is on the prosecution to prove their case against you. Every accused person has the right to plead not guilty. Even if unsuccessful, no punishment can be applied for deciding to run a trial and put the evidence to the test.

However, a discount is available that seeks to encourage a plea of guilty at an early opportunity

The rationale behind the discount reflects:

-          Evidence of remorse and therefore, good prospects of rehabilitation

-          Accepting responsibility

-          Relieving victims from ongoing trauma and the stress involved in giving evidence

-          Saving public costs for the time and expense of a trial

Discounts of between 10 and 25 per cent can be applied for entering a plea of guilty. Where a figure falls within that range will mostly depend on the timing of the plea.

The amount of a discount hinges on whether the plea was made at the “first reasonable opportunity”. This allows some room for a delayed plea in circumstances where proper legal advice had not been sought or where plea negotiations had taken place. In such cases, some discount can be applied, but it is likely to be reduced.

A sincere interest to facilitate justice is not a point of consideration. Even if pleading guilty is a purely self-serving act that has little to do with remorse, it will not minimise the discount.

Similarly, the strength of a prosecution’s case is also irrelevant. Admitting guilt to a particularly weak case against you, won’t bear a greater discount in your favour. The complexity of a case will only be taken into account in Commonwealth matters but not for State offences.

There is one exception where there can be no discount, despite a plea of guilty. For extreme cases or “worst category cases”, the maximum penalty cannot afford to be ruled out. The reason for this is based on public policy, where the full strength of a penalty must still be applicable for worst case offenders.

Post offending conduct

Sentences won’t always hinge on the crime alone, the steps an offender makes in the aftermath can still be given weight. This type of sentencing reduction is most commonly referred as the ‘Ellis Principle”. It relates to certain acts, acknowledged by the courts that will allow for a degree of mercy.

These acts relate to the following post offending conduct:

-          Voluntary disclosure of unknown guilt

-          Admitting to additional offences that were otherwise undiscovered

-          Forfeiting incriminating evidence

-          Assisting investigating authorities by providing information, participating in the investigative process or acting as an informer against other offenders.

The reason for the discount is based on public policy, where it’s in the public’s interest to encourage and reward the administration of justice.

In cases where an offender confesses a crime after a lengthy delay, two considerations must be balanced out. The court will weigh out the negatives of continued concealment and lying to the police, alongside any rehabilitation the offender may have undergone in the course of time.

Another factor that will be taken into account is how likely the guilt would have been discovered without their disclosure. If the offender volunteers themselves only upon close discovery, they are open to less leniency from the court.

In cases where an offender agrees to help investigating officers, the effectiveness of that assistance is irrelevant. Whether or not the offender’s participation in an investigation lead to any real progress, will not impede their discount.

How are sentencing discounts applied?

Once a magistrate or judge has decided in their mind what the appropriate penalty would’ve been for the offence, they can mark down the sentence by applying the discount.

However, a limitation applies where an offender is eligible to two discounts. In these situations the discounts must be combined and calculated in a holistic manner, rather than separate subtractions. Generally the total discount available will be capped to 50 per cent.

For the purposes of transparency, a decision maker is required to explicitly state that a discount has been factored into the penalty when handing down their judgement. But despite the active steps you can make to reduce your sentence, the courts have stressed that it is not an entitlement. Ultimate discretion remains in the hands of the sentencer to apply mercy where they see fit.

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