Sentencing – Do I get a discount for pleading guilty?
As a matter of principle, Judges are not allowed to impose a heavier penalty just because an accused person has pleaded not guilty but then been found guilty.
But Judges are entitled to a give a substantial discount for a plea of guilty, and particularly an early plea of guilty.
Prosecutors and the police always have to act responsibly and not "overcharge" in order to be able to negotiate an early plea of guilty to a lesser charge. So they should not charge a person with reckless driving in order to extract an early plea of guilty to, say, careless driving. Good defence lawyers will always be ready to point out to the Court that an overkill situation should be frowned upon by the Courts.
Until fairly recently, we staggered along on a case-by-case basis and no one ever knew whether they would be entitled to a 20% discount or even up to a 50% discount. It was decided on a case-by-case basis.
Now, in the recent case of R v Hessell  NZCA 450, the Court of Appeal has released a guideline judgment on guilty plea discounts. The Court of Appeal recognised the need to resolve the conflict in approach between the earlier Court of Appeal authorities and more recent ones as to how sentencing Judges should recognise guilty pleas.
The Court then proceeded to set out a clear approach for the future in order to allow defence lawyers to advise their clients properly with as to the favourable consequences to them of a plea of guilty, and in particular an early plea of guilty.
These guidelines took eff
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