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(This column is intended to address commonly asked questions about the criminal justice process for defendants. We intend to explain the roles of the various persons at each stage in this process beginning with the arrest and questioning stage and concluding with further information and resources. We will also address how long you can be held in custody and other rights and responsibilities you should be aware of. This column in no way replaces your need to personally consult your attorney-at-law or your own readings on the existing law ( Prepared by Sparman and Small attorneys-at-law)
What pleas are available to me?
NOT GUILTY PLEA
The purpose of this plea is to cause the prosecution to prove all of the elements of each offence that a defendant has been charged with. In criminal trials your guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution’s case. This means that at the end of the prosecution’s case your guilt must be proven to be CERTAIN for you to be convicted on the charge(s). Following this logic you can refuse to plead and this will be taken as a ‘not guilty’ plea. Further, the plea of ‘not guilty’ is also available to you if you contend that you did not commit the offence.
What does ‘guilty with explanation’ mean?
We have observed that many persons attempt to adopt this plea because they have heard others use it or they do not want to be upfront about their guilt. This plea plainly means that although the defendant would be otherwise guilty, the defendant could have a VALID defence that causes the guilty plea to become QUALIFIED. In this instance a ‘not guilty’ plea should be recorded by the court.
By this plea the defendant gives up his/her right to a trial; simultaneously, the prosecution’s case/cause to prove all of the elements of the offence comes to a halt. This plea is the defendant’s admission to all of the necessary elements of each offence. There are many serious implications that proceed from a guilty plea.As such, an acceptable/valid guilty plea must be unequivocal and voluntary.
What does unequivocal and voluntary mean in this context?
The perfect example to demonstrate the point of the need for the guilty plea to be unequivocal is the ‘guilty with explanation’ plea that we discussed earlier. The ‘guilty with explanation’ plea lacks certainty whilst a true guilty plea is required to be certain. Therefore, unequivocal means certainty of plea in this context. As it relates to voluntariness, you should recall that we discussed earlier that you should not be forced to make a certain plea and that your plea should be made by you to reflect that the plea is of your free will. Further, for the plea to be voluntary you must be informed and have understanding of the plea and its implications.