Victorian guilty pleas spike

The requirement to make judges state sentencing discounts has made a huge difference to the number of guilty pleas in Victoria.

For the first time in Australia, the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council has conducted a study into the reasons accused persons plead guilty.

Most offenders sentenced in the Victorian higher courts pleaded guilty, the study found with 72 per cent of offenders with proven charges in the Supreme Court and 85 per cent in the County Court.

The study follows changes made to the sentencing discounts in Victoria for guilty pleas in 2008, requiring judges to state the discount.

“We believe that this has proved to be an effective mechanism for bringing forward guilty pleas,” said Professor Arie Freiberg, Sentencing Advisory Council chair.

“There is sufficient evidence here that there has been a change in behaviour.”

The study found that younger offenders were more likely to plead guilty than older offenders and those sentenced of harsher crimes, such as murder, were the least likely to plead guilty (only 48 per cent of proven murder charges).

By comparison, 97 per cent of those sentenced for attempted armed robbery pleaded guilty, the report noted, however that the difference may be due to the strength of evidence available for different offences.

“What we want to do is to encourage as many guilty pleas, I stress, where people are in fact guilty, we don’t want to place undue pressure on them but if we can understand their motivations, then counsel for prosecution and deference can work with accused persons to ensure that the best outcome is achieved,” said Freiberg.

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