Should I plead guilty or not guilty?
Presumably you’ve typed this question into Google and found this page because you’ve been accused of a criminal offence… maybe you’ve just got a really guilty consciousness and are expecting a knock at the door because you dropped a sweetie wrapper when you were 7, I don’t know. But, if you have been accused of a crime then I’m afraid I have no idea whether you should plead guilty or not guilty as I haven’t seen the evidence in your case, but I can help you start making a decision.
The first thing I am obliged to say is that if you are innocent then you should always plead not guilty. But, let’s be a bit more pragmatic because an awful lot of people tell me they feel they are innocent but the stress of the court process is so much worse than a conviction that might carry a small fine and a few penalty points. So, let’s work out together how you might want to proceed.
I should be clear that there are complete no hoper cases in which no competent lawyer would advise a not guilty plea but where the defendant is nonetheless acquitted. It happens. It probably won’t happen to you. Speak to a solicitor – you’re welcome to call me on 020 8242 4440 – but so long as you go into a trial knowing your chances then I don’t really see why you shouldn’t go for it if that’s the right decision for you. I know a lot of judges will hate me for being realistic.
How do you decide? The first step is to accept that while you’d rather have nothing to do with this case, you do and there’s nothing you can do to change that fact. So, you need to decide what is important to you; what are your goals in these proceedings? It might be that your aim is to end proceedings ASAP with as little pain as possible. You might want to avoid conviction. You might not care about the conviction but just want to keep your driving licence. You might be worried about prison and any outcome that avoids a gaol cell will be a winner for you. It’s up to you. Decide on your goal and don’t let a solicitor talk you into something else unless they can give excellent reasons why you should change your goal – I don’t mean to be deprecating of my professional colleagues but there are definitely some who will persuade you to plead not guilty because it enhances their fee not because it is right for you.
Once you have defined what success in your case looks like to you, the next step is to have a real conversation with a solicitor who has seen the evidence in your case – I’m afraid that does mean actually instructing and paying one of us. Many solicitors will be happy to advise you for a fixed fee and then incorporate that advice fee into the fee they charge for representing you in court if you decide to ask them to do that – well I would be happy to do that anyway… seriously, call me. You solicitor will be able to tell you how likely you are to achieve your goals in your case and you can decide whether to keep a realistic goal, refine your goal, or say “to Hell with it, let’s do it anyway”.
While I can’t give specific advice here – because I don’t know you or your case – I can give some general guidance, and this is VERY general, it may not apply to you and you should always speak to a solicitor if you have any doubts about your ability to deal with your case alone.
If you want the case over and done with ASAP then generally you’ll want to plead guilty. It may be worth making representations to the prosecutor to ask them to drop the case if a solicitor feels that you would have a good chance of winning a trial, another good reason to call me. You will also want to put some mitigation in place: character references can be helpful, as can having a plan for what you will say to the court to persuade them to impose the minimum sentence. You’ve got to go to court so you might as well say something to minimise the damage.
If you want to avoid conviction, you will only ever achieve that by pleading not guilty. It may not look like you have a defence, but it’s worth speaking to an expert if you aren’t sure. For example, I represented a client who was on video committing the offence; however, I was able to persuade the court that the prosecution had not complied with the law on evidence and thus were unable to rely on their video. My client was acquitted and the court made a costs order allowing him to reclaim his legal costs!
If you want to keep your driving licence, then you’ll want to think about pleading not guilty – they can’t ban you if you haven’t done anything wrong! – or arguing that there is a special reason for not disqualifying you from driving. Don’t forget, you can do both. This is another area where you will need advice from a solicitor who knows what they are talking about and who has access to forensic experts, because many special reasons will require evidence from a forensic scientist.
Avoiding prison is, perhaps surprisingly, not the hardest task I’ve ever been given by a client. Nearly everybody who comes to me has an excellent chance of avoiding a prison sentence to the point that I’ve only had two motoring law clients go to prison in the past decade and they were both doing their very best to get a prison sentence – one in particular only got potted after his third drink driving and second driving while disqualified offence in the space of 6 weeks!!
There’s a lot more to be said on this subject but most of it will need a lengthy background on criminal law, sentencing law, and the law of evidence plus about five hours of your time to read it all. Better for you to just give me a call on 020 8242 4440 and we’ll talk through your options.
In summary, first you decide on your goals, second you assess how achievable they are, third you do the work to achieve those goals… or call me and I’ll do it for you.
If you would like to talk through your case, please call 020 8242 4440 and ask for Nick Diable, or send me a message via our contact page.