Rachel Murphy is a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives and has over 25 years’ experience in criminal law. Rachael works in the firms Crown Court department dealing with clients charged with serious offences. One of the questions we are frequently asked by clients is how to get the best possible result in sentencing when a client has or intends to plead guilty. Here, Rachel provides her 7 most important tips in achieving the best result when being sentenced at the Crown Court.
“When a case is transferred to the Crown Court it can be a daunting experience particularly if you have no experience of the Criminal Justice System. The experience doesn’t just affect the person accused but also affects there loved one who will inevitably also be concerned about the possible outcome. Everybody makes mistakes or takes bad decision that they will regret. Some of these decisions can result in you fining yourself appearing before a judge in the Crown Court.
Tip 1 – Maximum credit.
An early guilty plea is essential if you do intend to plead guilty in order to get the maximum credit. Credit is discount off your sentence which you receive for an early guilty plea. It starts at 33% (or 1/3rd) if the guilty plea is entered or indicated at the first available opportunity. The discount is reduced on a sliding scale as the case progresses. For example, if you entered a not guilty plea and the case was adjourned for trial, if you changed your plea on the day of trial then the discount would be reduced to 10% (1/10th). A discount of one third is significant and might mean the difference in going to prison or not.
Tip 2 – Ensure the guidelines are followed correctly.
Judges will refer to Sentencing Council guidelines before they sentence you for a criminal offence. These guidelines are available publicly but can be complex and difficult to understand. The guidelines set out maximum sentences that can be imposed after trial. They also set out the categories of offences and range of sentences available depending on the culpability and harm caused by the offence. Your legal representative should take you through the guidelines and explain them to you. It is important that you understand any aggravating features which make the case more serious and more importantly identify any mitigating factors which will reduce the sentence.
Tip 3 – Ensure you are sentenced for what you did and not what others say you did
Sometimes you can be guilty of an offence but the facts stated by the prosecution are incorrect. For example, it may be that the victim has exaggerated events. Your legal team can discuss this with you and the prosecution and agree a “basis of plea” which reflects what actually occurred. This is likely to have an effect of reducing the seriousness of the offence and place you in a lower category within the sentencing guidelines.
Tip 4 – Plea bargaining – myth or not?
Plea bargaining is a common phrase used in the US where the prosecution offers the defendant a deal whereby the he or she pleads guilty to a lesser offence in agreement that the prosecution do not proceed with the more serious offence. This also happens commonly in England & Wales and the prosecution may consider reducing the charge you face which will reduce any sentence a Court can impose. Your Solicitor can organize this on your behalf by discussing this with you in detail and putting forward representations as to why the prosecution should accept an alternative offence.
Tip 5 – Your appearance – make right impression.
It’s also important that you attend Court and present yourself well. Remember that you may have to wait around for long periods of time, so it is important that you are comfortable, but the key point is to look smart and be respectful. The Judge will be looking for your reaction throughout the hearing. If you work as a builder, don’t come to court in your work wear. Assuming that you will be leaving court and going to work can be considered disrespectful.
Tip 6 – References
Your barrister can put forward mitigation to the judge, to try to minimize any sentence. The sentencing judge won’t know you and letters or references confirm the positive qualities you have so that the judge understands the true picture and circumstances that led to your offending. Your solicitor can discuss with you the type of references or other documentary evidence such as medical certificates or qualifications which might help. Some might not help so it is important to discuss with your solicitor as early as possible. For example a reference that says “[he/she] is not a violent” isn’t much use if you have pleaded guilty to an offence of violence. But, “before this offence I’ve never known [he/she] to be violent and this offence is completely out of character”might be more helpful.
Tip 7 – Get representation – The most important!
Ensuring that you are able to use the tips above effectively relies on the fact that get representation from solicitors who are experienced in criminal offences. Your solicitor can do all of the preparation and ensure that the all material and information is gathered. They will make sure that you understand the law and are pleading guilty to the most appropriate offence. All of these are matters which are crucial in ensuring you receive the best possible result. All defendants whose case has been sent to the Crown Court are eligible for legal aid. Your financial circumstances might mean that you will have to pay a contribution towards the costs.
If you have any further questions or need representation in the crown court then please contact the team here