Parties may plead guilty to an offence in cases where it is beyond reasonable doubt that they committed the crime.
When Does an Accused Plead Guilty?
There are many stages at which the accused can plead guilty. The accused can first plead guilty where he is first officially charged in court. If he claims trial, he can subsequently inform the court that he intends to plead guilty during the criminal case disclosure conference. If he does not, he can plead guilty at the start of the trial, when his charge(s) are read out to him, or he can plead guilty mid-trial, after the Prosecution has presented their evidence, before the accused proceeds to present his evidence. Where the accused states that he intends to plead guilty in a criminal case disclosure conference, the court will fix a date for his plea to be taken.
Once the accused pleads guilty to the charge read to him, his plea must be recorded and he will be convicted on it. Before his plea is recorded, the court must be satisfied that the accused understood the nature and consequences of his plea, along with the punishment prescribed for the offence. Once his plea is recorded, the court will convict him.
What Happens after the Accused Pleads Guilty?
Once the court convicts the accused, the prosecution may speak about the accused’s sentence. Their speech can include any criminal records of the accused; any victim impact statement; and any relevant factors which may affect the sentence. A “victim impact statement” refers to any statement regarding any harm suffered by the victim as a direct result of an offence, including physical bodily harm or psychological or psychiatric harm.
Subsequently, the court must hear any plea in mitigating the sentence by the accused, and the prosecution has the right to reply.
After the court has heard the mitigation plea, it may hear any evidence to determine the truth of the matters raised in the plea, as this may materially affect the sentence. The court can do so at its discretion or on the application of the prosecution or the accused. The court will subsequently pass the sentence immediately or on another day as it thinks fit.
After the sentence is passed, the accused will be taken away to serve his sentence.
Pleading Guilty Electronically
It is possible to plead guilty electronically for certain offences. This includes offenders who have committed offences punishable by fine or by imprisonment of 12 months or less, or both.
To plead guilty electronically, the accused must enter a plead of guilty at a computer terminal designated by the Registrar of the State courts within the prescribed time and pay in advance the fine fixed by the supervising Magistrate. The Registrar of the State Courts must subsequently send to the supervising Magistrate a record of the guilty plea and the fine paid within a reasonable time after the accused has done both.
The supervising Magistrate may require the accused’s attendance at any stage of the proceedings, and he can enforce the accused’s attendance by issuing a summons or a warrant, depending on the type of offence in question. This can be done by checking the First Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code, which stipulates offences for which a summons should be issued first.
An example of an offence that an accused can plead guilty electronically to would be minor traffic offences. Such minor offences are usually punishable by fine, which is indicated by the traffic ticket or notice specifying an “offer of composition”. The accused can plead guilty electronically through AXS or SAM kiosks, and paid their fines through these kiosks. It is possible to pay these fines through the Police E-Services as well (click on “Traffic Matters”, followed by “Status of Outstanding Traffic Offence and Payment of Fines”).
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