The term ‘Plea Bargain’ is widely used in media, however, it is not a commonplace option in Queensland Courts. Instead, prosecution and defence lawyers will often engage in negotiations throughout the criminal process to lessen charges, reduce sentences and attempt to avoid lengthy or costly trials.
Why do negotiations take place?
Trials can get pricey very quickly. From drafting documents to interviewing witnesses to coordinating with the court so hearings and motions can be scheduled, it isn’t unusual for trials to cost clients dearly. The longer they go, the more expensive they tend to be. Depending on the facts of the case, there are other options that avoid the costs associated with litigation, court and legal retainer fees.
Many defendants plead guilty for a variety of reasons, which include:
- Actual guilt;
- In order to minimise sentence;
- To save the cost of a trial; and/or
- Risk of a finding of guilt against them.
Negotiations are often beneficial because they promote cooperation between the defence and the prosecution. A court will not accept a plea if one side is unhappy with the end result. So long as all parties negotiate in good faith, plea negotiations can be the best turn of events for everyone because they require collaboration and mutual understanding.
Another option for defendants is a ‘Justice Mediation’. This is where a meeting is facilitated between the defendant and the complainant or victim. It provides the parties to discuss what happened, the effects of the offence and if there is a way to repair the harm caused to the victim outside of the court.
Justice Mediation is a voluntary process, referred by the police, prosecutor, or court. The result of a successful justice mediation may result in the charges being dropped, or the outcome being taken into account in Court and lessening the sentence you receive. Even if it is not successful, an attempt at justice mediation may be taken into consideration when you are given a sentence.
If your matter is higher than the Magistrates court, it is unlikely that Justice Mediation will be considered, due to the more serious nature of the offences alleged.
Factors the limit a sentence
If you do not engage in Justice Mediation, or are unsuccessful, it is still possible for a sentence to be reduced or changed depending on a variety of circumstances that will be negotiated between the defence and prosecution. These factors include:
- Any prior criminal history
- The nature of the offence
- The age of the defendant
- The impact on the victim
- Letters of apology to the court and to the victim (if possible)
- Relevant case law for similar situations
Sentencing may also be reduced on the basis of personal circumstances. Of the defendant has children, or has a specialised job, sentencing may be reduced or a lesser sentence with no conviction given. It is important to provide Character references from family, friends, co-workers, and members of the community to corroborate your personal circumstance and quality of character.
Pleading down a charge
Negotiations often occur when there are multiple charges available. For instance, one account of common assault may also include another count of aggravated assault. In exchange for a plea of guilty, the prosecution may agree to leave in place the lesser of the two charges. This, of course, means less time spent in jail or a smaller fine, whatever the incident in question may be. Negotiations may also result in the substitution of charges or rolled up counts, which combines similar offences into one or fewer.
At Russo Lawyers, we are committed to our clients and will get to the bottom of the facts in the vigorous pursuit of justice. Before you speak to the police, please contact us by phone or online to ensure your rights are protected.