To plead or not to plead

This has nothing to do with the post but I thought it was funny
From the National Office of Importance

I represented a defendant today who was accused of being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle, which is essentially an offence the police can charge where they cannot prove that somebody has driven or is about to drive.

The scope of the offence is very wide, essentially you are guilty if you are a) over the drink driving limit; and b) in charge of a motor vehicle.  So, in theory if you have a few drinkies at home and your car is parked outside you could be guilty of a drink driving offence.  Obviously this would be both silly and unjust, so there is a defence built into the statute that you are not guilty if there is no likelihood of you driving the vehicle while over the drink driving limit.

In today’s case, this defence was wide open to my client.  I won’t bore you with the full details but essentially the client states that he was out drinking with his girlfriend and friends.  She let slip that she had been sleeping with somebody else behind his back and in a drunken fit of emotion he returned to his car, punched it once or twice then sat in it smoking for about 15-20 minutes after which time the police arrived and arrested him for being drunk in charge.  Police attended as somebody saw him punch the car and calling the police thinking he was a vandal.

Now, whether you believe him or not is irrelevant because we don’t know if it’s true or not; all we know is that he insists that it is the truth and that his account gives him a defence.

He decided to plead guilty, not because he accepts that he was going to drive but because he took a commercial decision that the cost of fighting and winning the trial was greater than the cost of pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity. 

Under the old system, a defendant who wins his trial would have had all of his reasonably incurred costs reimbursed from central funds (which are the Government’s pot of cash for paying out legal costs in cases they lose a case).  The new system; however, limits the amount of money that a defendant who is acquitted of all criminal allegations can expect to get back.

In this case, the defendant decided that the risk of not getting his money back following a successful trial outweighed the consequences of pleading guilty, losing his driving licence for up to six-months and accepting his first criminal conviction.

I can’t be the only one who thinks that the purpose of the criminal justice system is, as the Overriding Objective in the Criminal Procedure Rules says, to convict the guilty and acquit the innocent.  It’s one thing for a business to make commercial decisions whether to defend a case against themselves in the civil courts entirely on the money but it is not how the criminal courts should be run… not in my opinion at least.


  1. Am I right in thinking that the court could have chosen to not accept his guilty plea if they were of the opinion that he actually believed himself to be not guilty?

    1. Yes, as SouthLondonJP said they can refuse, although since I am aware of that I wouldn't put forward his assertion that he is pleading despite being innocent, although I might mention that he sat in the car for 15 minutes without driving and wasn't attempting to drive when the police arrived.

  2. Yes, it the court feels the plea was 'equivocal' it can refuse to accept the guilty plea. Doesn't get around the problem of paying for legal representation though as the court won't appoint a lawyer for him and without at least some help, it's not easy to run the defence without it


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