PLEADING GUILTY IN MAGISTRATES COURT QLD
When you plead guilty to a criminal offence in a Queensland Magistrates Court, this is a sentence hearing. The judicial officer who hears your sentence hearing and decides on the penalty you receive is the Magistrate.
The general process of a sentence hearing in the Magistrates Court is detailed below.
ENTERING THE COURTROOM
When you enter the courtroom, you (or your lawyer) will need to speak to the prosecutor. The prosecutor stands at the right-hand-side of the bar table. The bar table is a table positioned in the front centre of the courtroom. You will need to tell the prosecutor your name. If you have not already told the prosecution you are intending on pleading guilty on the court date, then you need to tell them you want to plead guilty today. The prosecutor will make a note of this. You will then need to take a seat in the public gallery at the back of the courtroom until you hear your case being called on for hearing.
YOUR CASE IS CALLED ON
The prosecutor will call your case on by telling the Magistrate your name. The prosecutor may say something like “Would Your Honour take the matter of………”. When you hear your name called out by the prosecutor, you need to go up to the front of the courtroom and stand to the far left of the bar table. If you have a lawyer, you will stand to the left of your lawyer at the bar table. You, or your lawyer, will tell the Magistrate you are pleading guilty to the charge before the Court.
THE MAGISTRATE READS OUT THE CHARGE
The Magistrate will then usually read out the charge to you and ask you how you want to plead (i.e. guilty or not guilty). The Magistrate may ask you if your plea of guilty is on your own free will and if anyone in a position of authority or anyone else has told you that you should plead guilty. Upon you entering a plea of guilty to the charge, you can sit down on the seat to the left of your lawyer.
THE PROSECUTOR MAKES SUBMISSIONS
The prosecutor is the first person who gets to make submissions about the charge to the Magistrate. The prosecutor may tell the court about:
- the facts for each charge (what you did). The facts given to the Court are generally read out by the prosecutor directly from the QP9 Court Brief. The prosecutor may read out exactly what is written in the QP9 Court Brief, or they may give a summary. If you have a lot of charges, the prosecutor may hand the Magistrate a document (such as a sentencing schedule or schedule of facts) that has all the information for each of the charges.
- details of any harm caused to any victim.
- details of any loss caused to any persons.
- the penalty they believe the Magistrate should impose.
- aggravating features of your case. Aggravating features are things about you, the victim or the offence that may mean you should get a higher penalty.
DEFENCE MAKES SUBMISSIONS
After the prosecutor makes submissions to the Magistrate, the defence makes submissions. If you have a lawyer, they will do the talking for you. When a defence lawyer makes submissions for you, they will have two primary aims:
- Tell the Magistrate about you, your family and social background and anything of relevance about you as a person; and
- Attempt to persuade the Magistrate to give you a particular penalty.
The reason defence lawyers tell the Court about you as a person, is because the law says the Court must have regard to your “character, age and intellectual capacity“ when they sentence you. Your lawyer is in the best position to inform the Court of these things on your behalf. Things your lawyer may tell the Magistrate may include:
- the level of schooling you achieved.
- if you had a traumatic upbringing.
- your employment history if you have worked.
- your personal circumstances.
- your future plans.
- any problems you had in your life that may have led to your offending.
- any positive things you have done in the community.
If you have got character references or a medical report, these will be given to the Magistrate to consider when sentencing you.
Your defence lawyer should discuss penalty and tell the Magistrate what penalty they believe you should get. Your lawyer may or may not have precedent cases to mention to the Magistrate to help them decide what penalty to give you. When we talk about precedent cases, we are talking about cases like yours that have already been decided by a court. The outcome/decisions in some cases are published and these decisions can be given to the Magistrate to read to help them decide on the penalty.
Your lawyer will tell the Magistrate anything in your favour that should reduce the penalty the Magistrate gives you. These things are referred to as “mitigating features”. They may be things personal to you or the facts of the case that should cause the penalty to be reduced.
Examples of mitigating features may include:
- evidence of prospects of rehabilitation;
- evidence of remorse;
- having repaid the victim the loss you caused them;
- your offending being for need rather than greed;
- your offending being a spur of the moment, rather than something planned;
- your co-operation with the police in investigating the offence;
- any admissions you made to police;
- your previous good character if you have never committed a criminal offence;
- your mental health at the time of the offence or at sentence; and
- if you are a youthful offender (being of a young age).
THE MAGISTRATE PASSES SENTENCE
When the prosecutor and the defence has finish making their submissions, the Magistrate will pass sentence. You must stand and listen to the Magistrate. When the Magistrate is speaking, they should say the things they have considered when deciding on the penalty. The Magistrate may mention things like:
- the facts for the offence (what you did).
- the mitigating features of your case (things in your favour).
- the aggravating features of your case (the negative things against you).
After discussing the above, the Magistrate will tell you the penalty they are giving you.