We constantly receive enquiries from people who have already pleaded, or intend to plead, ‘Not Guilty’. Not infrequently a short discussion reveals that callers would be better served by tendering ‘Guilty’ pleas. Here are the 3 worst reasons we are given for why some callers intend to plead ‘not guilty’:-
1. Admission of the Material Facts (but disputing others)
Sometimes callers dispute the facts alleged by the prosecution but to an extent that does not negate guilt. An example would be, in a speeding case, someone who contests the speed alleged by the police but who admits s/he was exceeding the speed limit eg in a case alleging driving at 105mph in a 70 mph limit the motorist claims they were only doing 80 mph. The correct plea in such a case is ‘Guilty’ as the motorist admits exceeding the limit. However, were the difference between the speed alleged by the Crown and admitted by the defence deemed material to sentence then it would be necessary to have a trial, not as to innocence or guilt, but as to the extent by which the limit was exceeded.
This is to give the court a sure basis of fact upon which to sentence a Defendant. In the example above, for instance, a court would be likely to consider a disqualification if the speed were 105 mph but only an endorsement of 3 points if the speed were 80 mph. Thus the dispute as to the facts would not have been relevant to innocence or guilt but only as to sentence. Therefore, the correct plea would have been one of ‘guilty’ all along.
A motorist should always assess the facts of an alleged offence. If the material facts are admitted but non-material facts are in dispute this would usually mean a ‘guilty’ plea should be entered. Only if the dispute over the remaining facts is material to sentence would it be necessary to have a trial as to the facts (but not as to innocence or guilt).
2. Special Reasons
Sometimes a motorist may have a good or justifiable reason (in the eyes of the law) for driving despite committing an offence by doing so. Examples might be driving when over the alcohol limit but only because of an emergency, or, for instance, driving without insurance but only because of being misled by another. Obviously, in such circumstances the driver will feel aggrieved at being prosecuted. This does not mean that a ‘not guilty’ plea should be entered. If the material facts of the offence are admitted rather than pleading ‘not guilty’ the motorist should plead ‘guilty’ but advance special reasons.
Once again, this will probably necessitate a trial over the facts (to establish that the special reason existed and was adequate to justify or excuse the driving) but, if successful, the defendant will usually avoid the normal consequences of conviction such as a disqualification or an endorsement with penalty points.
Not infrequently we receive calls from people who say they wish to plead ‘not guilty’ not because they have formed a reasoned view that they are innocent but more out of desperation for the consequences of conviction. Many offences result in, if convicted, a mandatory disqualification. Some people, for example, those for whom this would mean loss of livelihood, tend to be unrealistic in such situations as to their assessment of the evidence against them and, therefore, as to their chances of an acquittal.
It should be remembered that if someone pleads ‘not guilty’ this will usually lead to a trial. This often involves more than one attendance at court as well as the stress and costs of a fully contested hearing. Anyone who is convicted following a trial also loses any ‘credit’ for a ‘guilty’ plea to which they would otherwise have been entitled. This means, in practice, that the sentencing will be markedly more severe than if they had tendered a ‘guilty’ plea at the outset.
Motoring offence law and the associated laws of evidence are complex and the consequences of responding to a police allegation without fully assessing and understanding the consequences can be the difference between losing and keeping your driving licence. Making an informed decision at the outset as to the way forward is likely to pay dividends in the long run even if it means being realistic about allegations made against you. Perhaps the worst thing you can do is to put your head in the sand hoping it will all go away. This rarely pays dividends but often results in harsher penalties and higher costs in the end.