Guilty Plea May Bring Sentence Certainty
A judge may, at the request of a defendant in a criminal case, indicate the likely maximum sentence that he or she would pass were the defendant to plead guilty to the charge. Furthermore, the judge has the right to remind the defence counsel, if appropriate, that they can seek such an indication.
This decision of the Court of Appeal arose from a case of corruption in which Karl Goodyear was fined £1,000 and given a sentence of six months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. In a meeting between the judge and Mr Goodyear’s counsel, the judge had indicated that he did not regard the case as a ‘custody case’. Mr Goodyear pleaded guilty to the charge and when he was given a custodial sentence (albeit suspended), he appealed.
In deciding that the judge did have the authority to respond to the request of the defendant for an indication of sentence and that such a response would not constitute putting pressure on the defendant, the Appeal Court Judges have issued guidance to apply in criminal trials.
Judges are not to give guidance as to the likely sentence that will be passed in response to a guilty plea unless requested to do so and may refuse to do so. Also, they should only give guidance regarding the likely maximum sentence that might be imposed. They should only give an indication where there is an agreed basis of plea and not on the basis of any hypothetical facts. Once the defendant has had a reasonable opportunity to consider the indication and decides to plead not guilty, it ceases to have effect.
In deciding that the judge should have adhered to the indications regarding sentence that he had given, the Court of Appeal quashed Mr Goodyear’s suspended prison sentence.
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