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Early Guilty Plea – How are Sentencing Discounts Decided?

In 2000, courts gave guidelines that the sentencing discount for a guilty plea should fall in the range of 10 to 25 per cent, considering the time the plea is entered, its usefulness and the complexity of the issues. Some eight years after this guideline, new laws were passed following concern about the trend of late guilty pleas in criminal trials. The new laws clearly set out the discount for pleas. If a plea of guilty is entered before an offender is committed for trial, a discount of 25 per cent should ordinarily be imposed. If entered after committal, the discount should ordinarily be up to 12.5 per cent. An offender may also be given a discount for cooperation with authorities.

One offender, Ellis, who had committed a number of armed robberies on post offices and commercial premises, confessed to a minister of religion, decided to contact a solicitor and then confessed to police. In Ellis’s case, the courts began by noting the leniency that should be given to someone entering a plea of guilty and then explained that where conviction follows a voluntary disclosure of guilt, a greater degree of leniency enters into the sentencing decision.

The court decided that the leniency to be shown to a person who discloses their responsibility for a crime would vary according to how likely it was that the police would eventually discover their guilt, and also the likelihood of their being able to prove it.

An ‘Ellis discount’, as it has become known, may in some cases be enough to result in a sentence other than full-time imprisonment, where such a sentence might otherwise be inevitable.

While it is understandable that a decision to go to police and confess involvement in a serious criminal matter would require some reflection, too much delay can result in the chance to obtain an Ellis discount being missed, or else seeing the potential discount being reduced.

It is better to make a confession as soon as possible, to ensure that the matter is brought before a court before the opportunity evaporates.

The courts have suggested that the total discount, whether for a plea of guilty, assistance to authorities, or an Ellis discount, should not exceed 50 per cent of what would otherwise be the appropriate penalty.

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