If you are found to have committed a crime, you will receive a court summons requiring you to appear in court. When an accused person chooses to plead guilty, it basically means that he or she does not intend to contest the proceeded charges against him or her. If the accused is a body corporate, an officer of the company, usually the director, may elect to plead guilty on behalf of the company. The choice to plead guilty must be voluntary and unequivocal.
You may choose to plead guilty if you admit that you have committed the offence that you are charged with, and if you are prepared to be punished for the crime.
This punishment is also known as your “sentence”. Pleading guilty at an early stage usually represents genuine remorse and would likely attract a lighter punishment as compared to if you have are found guilty at trial .
What does the process of pleading guilty involve?
When you plead guilty to a charge, the court has to ensure that you understand the nature and consequences of pleading guilty. This will be determined when you attend a Plead Guilty (PG) hearing before a Judge.
Section 227(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code states as follows:
“Before the court records a plea of guilty, it must —
|(a)||if the accused is not represented by an advocate, be satisfied that the accused —
|(b)||if the accused is represented by an advocate, record the advocate’s confirmation that the accused —
In a situation where the offence is punishable with death, a guilty plea cannot be taken and evidence must be led by the prosecution to prove its case at a trial. This is provided for in Section 227(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
When an accused faces multiple charges, the prosecution may offer to proceed on only a selected number of charges with the remaining charges to be taken into consideration (“TIC”). If a particular charge is taken into consideration, it simply means that the accused will not be sentenced for that charge, but rather the judge will take into account the TIC charge when sentencing the accused on the proceeded charges. It is therefore important that the accused understands the nature and consequences of his or her plea.
At the PG hearing, the Prosecuting Officer will read out the charge(s) made against the accused and statement of facts to the accused in a language he or she understands. This statement of facts will contain the material facts relating to the offence. If the accused does not understand English, the accused may request for a court translator.
In summary, the court will only accept your plea of guilt if it is satisfied that:
- you fully understand the nature and consequences of your plea and the punishment prescribed for the offence; and
- your admission of guilt is without qualification.
If you agree and accept the facts, the court will accept your plea of guilt and convict you on the proceeded charge(s) if the judge is convinced that you are mentally fit to take the plea. The judge will then move on to consider your punishment.
It is important that you ensure the statement of facts are accurate, because they will be considered in determining the severity of your sentence.
Guilty Plea Hearings
During a guilty-plea hearing, the charge(s) would be read to the accused and the accused has to confirm that he is pleading guilty to the proceeded charge(s) and consents for the TIC charges (if any) to be taken into consideration for the purpose of sentencing.
Once the hearing judge is convinced that the accused understands the nature and consequences of his or her plea and is mentally fit to take the plea, the hearing judge would convict the accused of the proceeded charge(s).
The Prosecutor will then read the Statement of Facts to the Accused. If the accused does not agree to any material part of the Statement of Facts containing the essential elements of the offence, the guilty plea cannot be taken. In such a situation, the Court may direct the Prosecution to amend the charge or the Statement of Facts or send the matter to Pre-Trial Conference Courts for the matter to be directed for a trial or a Newton Hearing. A Newton Hearing is a hearing of factual disputes material to the sentence that may be imposed on the accused after the accused had taken the plea of guilt.
If the accused accepts the Statement of Facts without any qualifications, the Prosecution would then address the Court on the accused’s antecedents (if any) and submit to the Court on sentence.
If the accused is represented by a counsel, the Defence counsel would then address the Court on mitigation. It is pertinent not to qualify the accused’s plea in the mitigation and the mitigation should generally be in-line with the Statement of Facts. Raising a possible defence in the mitigation plea could sometimes amount to qualifying the accused’s plea which may lead to the Court rejecting the accused’s plea of guilt.
After the Defence counsel has addressed the Court on mitigation, the Prosecution will have the right of final reply before the hearing judge passes the sentence.
How does the judge decide what sentence to give?
Generally, the maximum punishment for an offence would be stated in the statute in which an accused is being charged under and the punishment is generally calibrated based on the severity of the crime you are convicted of.
However, there are numerous other factors that the court would take into account in determining your punishment. These factors include the existence of previous criminal records, the age of the offender, the need for deterrence and also the likelihood of rehabilitation. Before the judge passes the sentence, an accused would typically want to make a mitigation plea before the hearing judge. A mitigation plea involves the accused highlighting the mitigating factors and urging the court to be lenient when imposing the punishment. Usually mitigating factors surrounding the commission of the offence(s) would carry more weight rather than other factors such as family background, educational qualification, medical and employment background.
In situations where the offence committed is minor in nature and the offender is young (usually below the age of 21), a probation report may be called for the judge to assess the accused’s suitability for probation before the judge decides on the sentence. The imposition of a probation does not constitute a conviction and a criminal record.
What happens after sentencing?
Depending on the severity and type of offence the judge may impose, amongst other orders, a fine or a custodial sentence.
If the punishment imposed is a fine, the accused may seek the court’s indulgence for an installment payment. Typically for such a case, the court would require the accused to pay a portion of the fine upfront and the remainder by installments. Installment payment is at the discretion of the judge.
If the punishment imposed is an imprisonment term, the accused may also seek the court’s indulgence for him to defer his sentence to a later date for the accused to settle his personal affairs before he or she starts serving time in prison. If the court allows the deferment of the sentence, the court will order the accused to surrender himself or herself to the court at a date and time fixed by the judge. Failure to comply with the court’s order would result in a warrant of arrest being issued against the accused. If the accused is on bail, the bail sum may also be forfeited. Similarly, deferment of sentence is also at the discretion of the judge.
After the Court has passed the sentence, an accused person, who has pleaded guilty, may only appeal against the sentence if he or she finds that the sentence is excessive and not on conviction as pleading guilty would inevitably lead to a conviction. A Notice of Appeal must be filed within 14 days of the verdict. Once the accused is convicted and sentenced for an offence, the court would usually vary the bail amount upwards, if the accused wishes to be out on bail pending the appeal.
It is always advisable that an accused person seeks legal advice before taking a plea of guilt as he or she may not be fully apprised of the possible sentence that can be meted out and a retraction of plea may not always be possible.
Have a question or need legal advice?
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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.