Pleading guilty

Pleading guilty

If you plead guilty your case may go ahead on the same day. Your case may be put off to another day (adjourned) if the charges are serious and you need more time to prepare.

If you agree that you broke the law, tell the magistrate that you are pleading guilty. Go into the courtroom. The police prosecutor reads out the statement of alleged facts. The magistrate finds you guilty and gives you a penalty.

If you plead guilty the magistrate treats your plea as a sign that you are co-operating and may give you a less severe penalty.

Your case may be put off to another day (adjourned) if the charges are serious and you need more time to prepare.

If you have to go to court for a criminal offence you have three options:

If you plead guilty the magistrate treats your plea as a sign that you are co-operating and may give you a less severe penalty.

What to do at court

See also Representing yourself in a criminal case.

Tell the counter staff that you are pleading guilty

On the day of your hearing, go to the court counter and tell the staff that you are pleading guilty. The court staff will send your file into the courtroom. This lets the magistrate know that your case can be heard.

Stay close to the courtroom or go in there and wait for your name to be called. This may take a while If you wait in the courtroom, you can watch how other matters are heard.

Make sure you bow to the magistrate as you go into the courtroom.

The hearing begins

When your name is called, go to the bar table. Stand at the opposite end of the table from the prosecutor.

The charge is read and you make your plea

The court clerk or magistrate reads out the charge. Then they ask you if you are pleading guilty or not guilty. This is when you say you are pleading guilty.

If you have been charged you with an indictable offence that is triable summarily, the magistrate then asks you if you want your case heard in the Magistrates’ Court or the County Court. People usually choose the Magistrates’ Court. See Serious criminal charges.

The prosecutor reads out the summary

The prosecutor reads out the statement of alleged facts. This comes from the brief of evidence. The magistrate asks you if you agree with the statement or if it is a fair account of what happened.

If there is something major that you do not agree with, tell the magistrate.

If you agree with the summary, the magistrate says ‘I find the charge proved’.

The prosecutor reads out your priors

The magistrate asks the prosecutor if there is anything ‘known’ or ‘alleged’ (your prior convictions). They are asking if the prosecutor wants to say anything about any previous times you went to court. If you are guilty of similar offences, and if the magistrate finds you guilty this time, they will probably give you a harsher sentence.

The priors should be in the brief of evidence, if not you can get a copy of your priors from the prosecutor.

If there is anything you do not agree with, tell the magistrate. If you disagree with or do not remember one of the entries on your record, usually your case would need to be stood down so that you can sort it out with the prosecutor.

You get a chance to speak

The magistrate asks if you want to say anything. Although you accept that what you did was against the law, this is a chance to give your side of the story. This can be important in helping the magistrate decide on the penalty they give you.

Even if you are pleading guilty you can disagree with some of the things the police say happened. You cannot plead guilty but say that you did not break the law.

The magistrate announces the sentence

After listening to you, the magistrate announces your sentence. Ask the magistrate if you do not understand the penalty and what you have to do. For some offences, the magistrate must give you certain penalties. The magistrate has no discretion.

What can I tell the magistrate?

You might like to tell the magistrate about:

  • the people who are supporting you at court (if you have people to support you). The magistrate may ask them questions
  • how and why the offence happened. Explain your actions, do not excuse them
  • anything you have done to make up for the offence or to accept responsibility for it. For example:
    • paying for damage caused
    • co-operating with the police
    • apologising to the victim
  • what you learned and how you feel about what you did
  • what you are doing to stop the behaviour happening again. For example:
    • sorting out any drug or alcohol problems
    • seeing a counsellor or a social worker
    • selling your car
  • personal information about you. For example:
    • how old you are
    • your family situation
    • if you are working or studying
    • any personal problems that may explain your situation
  • your financial situation, including:
    • your income
    • rent or mortgage
    • car or other large loans
  • let the magistrate know if you might have trouble paying the fine. There are options. You can ask the magistrate to:
    • make a plan for you to pay it bit by bit
    • give you community work instead of a fine
  • why you need to keep your licence (if it is a traffic offence). For example:
    • so you can use it as part of your work
    • to pick up children
  • why you do not want a conviction and how it may affect you in the future. For example:
    • getting a job
    • travelling overseas.

You can also give the magistrate documents that you brought along. However, you must show these documents to the prosecutor first.

What should I do after my hearing?

Make sure you know what your penalty is. Go to the court counter and ask the staff for a copy of the court order. Your penalties will be listed in this. The staff may be able to explain what the penalties mean.

Make sure you follow what is in the court order. You could get in more trouble if you do not stick to the order.

How do I pay a fine?

You can pay the fine at any Magistrates’ Court. Go to the court counter and ask the staff for help.

Let the magistrate know if you might have trouble paying the fine. There are options. You can ask the magistrate to:

  • make a plan for you to pay bit by bit
  • give you community work instead of the fine.

If you do not pay, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest.

Can I appeal the magistrate’s decision?

If you do not agree with the decision you can appeal to the County Court. You have 28 days to do this. Get legal advice before you decide. You could get a higher penalty.

See Asking for a rehearing and Appealing a Magistrates’ Court decision.