Plea of Guilty
Most charges are dealt with as a plea of guilty. This is where the defendant admits to the charge. Often this happens after negotiations with prosecution (normally through a lawyer). This may result in a more serious charge being dropped and replaced with a less serious charge. In this case the original complaint may be withdrawn and a new complaint filed in the court. In other cases the particulars, or other circumstances of the charge are changed so that the charge will be treated less seriously. Where there are multiple charges, some may be dropped in exchange for a plea of guilty to the remaining charges. In this case the prosecution will ‘tender no evidence’ on the charges to be dropped and they will be ‘dismissed’.
The procedure is then the same as after a plea of guilty.
If the defendant pleads ‘guilty’, the magistrate will first call on the police prosecutor to outline the facts of the case. The prosecutor may make these facts available before court commences and they should be checked for accuracy by the defendant (or a lawyer) before they are read or given in evidence. These facts will be presented by the prosecutor who is in charge of the matter. Information may also be given by the prosecutor or the police officer about the defendant’s ‘antecedents’, that is, their age, marital status and occupation, though this is usually done by the defendant (or their lawyer) in the ‘plea of mitigation’. The prosecutor will inform the magistrate of any prior convictions recorded against the defendant after checking those for accuracy with the defendant.
If the defendant disputes any of the relevant facts as stated by the prosecution the magistrate must hear sworn evidence and resolve the conflict. Such conflicts are better resolved beforehand.
The magistrate will then call on the defendant, or the defendant’s lawyer, to present any facts in mitigation (lessening) of the offence. The defence may hand up to the magistrate references of the defendant’s character. The defence can call witnesses to the defendant’s good character or to explain the circumstances that led to the offence, or the defendant can give evidence about this and any other mitigating circumstances.
If a probation officer or parole officer has been involved with supervising the defendant, they may be asked to prepare a report for the court and be available to answer questions. In most cases where imprisonment is being considered as a possible option, the magistrate will ask that a pre-sentence report be obtained to help determine the appropriate sentence. If this report is not available to the court, the case will normally have to be adjourned for six weeks at least for it to be obtained. At the conclusion, the defendant or their lawyer will address the magistrate on why a severe penalty should not be imposed, and as to the most appropriate penalty for the individual defendant. The prosecution has the power to address on sentence, but rarely uses it. The magistrate will then give a decision.