Should you make an early guilty plea?
Early Appropriate Guilty Plea (EAGP) reforms introduced in NSW in 2018
In 2018 the NSW government brought in reforms to the early guilty plea system intended to tackle delays in the NSW District Courts.
Called the Early Appropriate Guilty Plea (EAGP) reforms, they apply to “strictly indictable offences” and “elected indictable table offences” that carry a maximum penalty of more than two years’ jail to be dealt with in the District or Supreme Court.
Impact of early guilty plea reforms on court efficiency
The EAGP reforms were aimed at improving court efficiency by reducing the number of guilty pleas being entered on the day of the trial, or just before the trial began.
Before the reforms, 73 per cent of indictable cases ended with the defendant pleading guilty, with 23 per cent of those guilty pleas being entered on the first day of the trial.
Data suggests the reforms have been effective, with the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research finding that since the reforms, early guilty pleas have risen by 6.5 per cent. (Please see The impact of the Early Appropriate Guilty Plea reforms on guilty pleas, time to justice, and District Court finalisations, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, 3 August 2021.)
Discount on sentencing for entering early guilty plea
Under the reforms, if a guilty plea is entered at or before the committal stage in the Local Court, an accused person is entitled to a sentencing discount of 25 per cent.
If the guilty plea is entered after committal, sometimes a little later, but up to 14 days before the first day of the trial, a sentence discount of ten per cent is applicable. A five per cent discount applies within 14 days of the trial.
Should I enter an early guilty plea?
Those who are facing trial should not just accept the offer of a sentence discount and plead guilty early, without first getting legal advice.
Remember it is the prosecution’s job to present evidence that will convince a judge or jury that you are guilty. This can be challenged on many grounds by a defence lawyer. Being charged with a crime does not necessarily mean you will be found guilty, and it could be worth fighting.
A defence lawyer can assess a defendant’s situation with objectivity and current experience.
The consequences of being convicted of a crime go way beyond the sentence. It could affect future job prospects and personal relationships, as well as the ability to travel or take out a loan.
In addition, there is no guarantee you will receive the sentencing discount. Judges still retain the discretion not to give any discount on sentences for cases of extreme culpability.
Six-year sentence for financial adviser who made early guilty plea
For offences that carry lengthy jail sentences, the early guilty plea might get you a cut of 25 per cent, but you will still spend a long time behind bars.
For instance, a 56-year-old Sydney financial adviser pleaded guilty to 15 charges under the Corporations Act for misappropriating $2.9 million from his clients and using it for rent, private school fees and holidays. (Please see Financial advisor misappropriates clients’ trust and funds, Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.)
He faced up to 15 years’ jail, but he enetered an early guilty plea and received a 25 per cent discount on his sentence to six years’ jail – four years non-parole – plus reparations to his clients.