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Sentence Indications in the Magistrates’​ Court

If you have been charged with a criminal offence heard in the Magistrates’ Court, it might be in your interests to apply for a sentence indication under section 60 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009. A sentence indication is where the Magistrate indicates the penalty they would impose if you were to finalise your matter and plead guilty after hearing the summary of the alleged offending and mitigating submissions made on your behalf. In this article, I will address when a sentence indication may be requested and how to best prepare for a sentence indication to receive the full benefit of applying for one.  

Sentence indications are a mechanism of avoiding a contested hearing. Generally, an accused person will apply for a sentence indication where: 

• The prosecution case is a strong one, but there may be elements of the summary that the accused does not agree with and is concerned would push them up the sentencing hierarchy if they pleaded guilty.

• The accused is open to finalising their matter but is avoiding a particular outcome such as the recording of a conviction.

• The accused does not want to go through the ordeal or expence of running a contested hearing.

A sentence indication is a great way to get an insight into what the penalty will before committing to a guilty plea and being at the sentencing Magistrate’s mercy. It provides some comfort to know that by formerly entering a plea of guilty, you will avoid the penalty that is causing you greatest concern. For example, you may be concerned that a conviction will be recorded, or that you will receive an immediate term of imprisonment.  

As obvious as it sounds, be prepared for the sentence indication if you intend to apply for one. So often, I see people apply for a sentence indication and scramble to cobble together mitigatory submissions. You should prepare for a sentence indication by doing the following – 

• undergo offence specific counselling,

• do not re-offend while the current matter is on foot,

• provide your solicitor with detailed personal instructions so they can make forceful mitigating submissions on your behalf in Court,

• identify the thing you are avoiding (such as a conviction, loss of driver’s licence, a term of imprisonment) so the submissions made on your behalf are tailored around this,

• dress appropriately to show deference to the Court.

Generally, you are only allowed to apply for one sentence indication during the life of a matter, therefore, it is important to get it right the first time. In some instances, you can apply for another sentence indication if your case or personal circumstances have materially changed. 

Sentence indications play a fundamental role in our criminal justice system, which is presently over-burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic. They give people some control over their outcome, they give people comfort before deciding to plead guilty, they spare court resources in not having to book matters in for contested hearing where an accused is penalty driven rather than steadfast on an acquittal. For example, a person may be content in pleading guilty to an assault charge if no conviction is recorded. In this scenario, it would be an unfortunate use of your resources to run a contested hearing if a Magistrate was never going to record a conviction on a plea of guilty. 

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