Guilty pleas are formal and conclusive admissions of all elements of that charge. When the accused pleads guilty, the Crown does not need to lead any evidence to prove that charge.
Our criminal lawyers know how to get you the result that you want when you plead guilty and are sentenced by a court. For everyone, the desired outcome is different. For clients that want it, we can deliver a sentence that does not involve a conviction. Others we keep out of prison and for some clients we get unusually short sentences of imprisonment.
The outcomes that we get our clients make a difference to their lives. A conviction can last forever and time in jail is time away from family and friends. Time you can never get back.
To ensure our clients get the best sentence possible we ensure you are always informed, prepared and ready for court. Our experienced criminal lawyers do a huge amount of work behind the scenes. This includes negotiations with prosecutors for you to plead guilty to less serious facts or even a less serious charge. We organize references, treatment for mental, drug and alcohol conditions and obtaining psychological/psychiatric reports.
Below is general information about the sentencing process. If you need representation or sentencing advice, make a website enquiry here or call our free 24/7 criminal law hotline on (02) 8815 8167.
Why do people plead guilty?
If you are guilty and the police can prove so, then being sentenced has many advantages. The greatest benefit of pleading guilty is that you receive a 25% discount on the sentence. Your sentence will also be reduced because a plea of guilty reflects remorse and contrition.
What are the sentencing options a court has?
The court has many sentencing options at its disposal. These include:
- No Conviction
- Conditional Release Orders with no conviction
- Conditional Release Orders with conviction
- Community Correction Orders with or without community service
- Intensive Correction Orders with or without community service
To assist people pleading guilty we have comprised the below guide to reference writing.
Example references are provided to our clients.
There are a few basic rules in obtaining references:
- The references must be written specifically for the court appearance in which they will be tendered. Job, school or outdated and old references are useless and will be given little to no weight.
- The idea is not obtaining as many references as you possibly can but rather, focus on quality over quantity. As a general rule, for less serious crimes, it’s good to aim to have three references. For serious crime the more quality references obtained the better.
- Obtain references from different types of people speaking to your character. Reliable sources of references are:
- Family, in particular parents and spouses;
- Charitable and sporting organisations to which you are a contributing member;
- Treating doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors;
- People held in high esteem in the community e.g. your local political member, legal practitioners and public figures.
What should a reference look like?
References should be typed and whenever possible on a letterhead. References must be signed and dated.
Do not write “to whom it may concern”. The reference should be addressed as follows:
The Presiding Magistrate/Judge
(Parramatta) Local (or District) Court
Dear Magistrate (or Judge)
Re: Joe Blogs – Character Reference
The ‘referee’ should say something about him/herself and include any positions or titles held. For example:
I am a General Practitioner at Parramatta Medical Centre. I am also a board member of the Blacktown Cricket Club.
Referees should outline how they know you and how long they have known the person for. For example:
I have known Joe Blogs for 20 years since we first met as volunteers of the Rural Fire Service. Since that time, we have become close friends and our families each summer go away to Hawks Nest together and share a holiday house.
All references should state that they know why the person is before the Court. For example:
I am aware that Joe Blogs has pleaded guilty to the offences of common assault, damaging property and intimidation.
All references should state background information about whether the person has previously been sentenced by a criminal court. For example:
I know that this is not the first time Joe Blogs has been before a court and that he in fact has thrice previously been convicted of drink driving. However, at the times of those offences, I did not perceive his drinking problem to have been addressed. Since completing residential rehabilitation, he is a different person and indeed I have not known him to be sober for this long since I first met him.
The references should state that the person communicated to the referee that he or she is remorseful for their conduct and has demonstrated insight into their behaviour. For example:
I have seen how Joe Blogs sincerely regrets having committed the offence. When he approached me and told me about what he did, Joe was in tears. He was devastated that his drunken behaviour in destroying the company’s property had caused them such a significant financial loss. Joe told me that he recognized that he had to be held account for his actions and asked if I would help organize a personal loan so the company could be compensated immediately.
What else can be included in a reference?
The best references are written from the heart. It is tempting to write off a template. Doing so creates a risk that the reference will sound contrived and read exactly like every other letter tendered in court that day. Whilst references from employers sound professional, loved ones should not be afraid to spill their hearts. Below are some examples of how particular aspects of a person’s character may be conveyed in a reference.
Mental health, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are matters relevant to the sentencing exercise. What factors does the referee think contributed to the offending? Did the referee observe the person with depression or experiencing trauma? Did they observe them self-medicating with drugs and alcohol? For example:
Joe Blogs has battled with drugs since his early adolescence. His parents were marijuana smokers and made no efforts to curtail his drug use. I know for a fact that by 16 years of age he was smoking daily with his parents’ consent but also sharing marijuana with them. Whilst his parents drug use was limited to cannabis, tragically for Joe it provided a gateway to Ice. The drug he was under the influence of when he committed this offence.
If the referee is an employer, the character reference should prove to the court that the person is a contributing member of society. The referee must write what the job is and how long the person has been employed? What makes them a good employee and why are they indispensable? For example:
Since commencing employment in 2010, Joe Blogs contribution to the company as a sales executive has been recognised by his colleagues and customers alike. His understanding of the business and local knowledge, having grown up in the community where the business is located, is irreplaceable. He is a mentor to our younger staff members, leading by example, in that he is first to arrive and last to leave.
An employer should state whether he or she can continue employing the person should the court record a conviction or impose a jail sentence. If applicable state if the person will lose their job because of other penalties, E.g. licence disqualification. Do not use vague or ambiguous language such as “the business may review Joe’s Blogs position”. Be direct, for example:
Our company policies will not allow Joe Blogs to continue his employment with us if he receives a conviction for a criminal charge and his contract will be terminated immediately. I have enclosed a copy of Joe’s contract with his permission to show the condition that the company would have no discretion but to rely on, despite his outstanding contributions, if he receives a criminal record.
If the referee is a family member, the referee will most likely have a personal and intimate perspective of the person. The hardest criminal can be the most loving father. Magistrates and judges are parents, husbands and wives. The way one treats their family is often a means of gaining an affinity with the court. For example:
As Joe Blogs mother, I saw first-hand how hard it was for him to lose his father at the start of his teenage years. In many ways, his age at the time meant he was forced to forgo his own childhood to look after his younger siblings and in helping them I feel he was never able to process his own grief.
A person’s demonstrated rehabilitation since an offence can be the difference between escaping a criminal conviction and jail, or and freedom. A person may receive treatment for any criminogenic factors contributing to their offending. Tt is paramount those efforts are emphasised by the referee. These efforts can include attending a psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor, detox or rehabilitation. For Example:
Seeing a psychologist has changed every aspect of Joe Blogs life. He has stopped drinking and can communicate with people more clearly. That has given him the confidence to find a job and reconcile with his children who he hasn’t spoken to for years. It’s the first time I have seen him happy and positive since he was seriously injured in a workplace accident in 2014.
Referees from the community sector are given weight if you are a participant in charity work or sporting clubs. They will be given less weight if the referee knows the person but the person themselves has no connection to the community organization. The closer your community ties, the better. For example:
Joe Blogs is a pillar of the local community, having been the President of the White Cross, Parramatta branch, for the past decade. In that time, Joe has personally raised hundreds of thousands of dollars by petitioning the local community to support his efforts to combat domestic violence. His work was directly responsible for the opening of the local women’s refuge, which I would assume the court is familiar with. He is the last person whom I would imagine to ever be before the court for an offence
If you are a friend of the accused, you can write a character reference that shows good familiarity with the person. How long have you known the accused? What is the person like when outside home and when interacting with people in the community? What does he or she do that goes above and beyond what people would normally do?
I have known Joe Blogs since high school and more than two years later, our children are at Blacktown Public School together in Kindergarten and year two respectively. Since my wife died tragically of cancer, I have been a single parent performing shift work to put food on the table to feed my children. Joe picks the children up after school and carries them in his arms as they sleep to my car at 10pm each school night, having fed them and helped them with their homework. He is like a second father to them and a brother to me. I don’t know how we would have overcome the tragedy that became us if not for him.
Hardship is a matter that a court may consider. Common forms of hardship include financial and family matters. For example:
The domestic violence offence that Joe Blogs committed has meant he has had to restart his life from scratch in his mid-thirties, although his remorse and character has meant that not once have I heard him complain. Nonetheless, he has lost his security licence and is unemployed looking to find a new field of work. He hasn’t seen his kids in months and is heading to the family court. He is back living with his parents. I am extremely concerned that a conviction will make it all but impossible for him to find new work when he is unskilled in all but security and unable to return to that industry.
Traffic offences and references
If the offence is one that carries a loss of licence, the referees should state your needs for a licence. Below are some reasons a court may invoke for not recording or reducing a disqualification period.
Loss of employment is a classic reason for a court not disqualifying a person. If a person will lose their job due to a loss of their licence the referee should put forward that assertion with absolute certainty. The court will see straight through waffle such as “his position may be reviewed”. For example:
A licence disqualification will prevent Joe Blogs from fulfilling his duties. If this occurs, he will be asked to temporarily leave his post until the disqualification lapses. If the disqualification is for more than 3 months his employment will be terminated as per clause 8.2 of his contract enclosed herein. There is no discretion in this situation. He is a sales representative and our clients cannot be serviced by public transport.
No viable alternative transport is a matter the court may consider when deciding whether to impose a disqualification. This mainly applies to people in the country but may apply if you are a shift worker, live or work in an area not serviced by public transport or to females who work late. For example:
Joe Blogs works at Marayong Chickens, in an industrial area where there is no public transport. He wakes up at 3am, leaves at 4am, and starts his shift at 5am. We have explored all options and, as he is the only licensed driver in our family, he has no way to get to work if he loses his licence. We have a mortgage and two school age children. Without a licence, he cannot get to work. Worse still, we’d have no way to get to the Richmond shops, a 20-minute drive from where we live on acreage.
Family reasons such as care for a child or elderly parents, sickness of yourself or another who relies upon your ability to drive, are matters a court may consider. For example:
Joe Blogs resigned from his job to look after our sick son as he is the only licenced driver in our family who could take him to his daily medical appointments. When he stopped working, I started a lower paying job. Even though it meant less money, it was the only way we could ensure our son received the treatment he needed. Joe is with our son 24 hours a day in case his condition worsens, and he needs to be taken to hospital. We simply cannot look after our son without a car.