Guilty pleas in the higher courts: rates, timing, and discounts

11 Aug 2015

Executive summary

This report examines the rate and timing of guilty pleas, and their effect on sentence, in the Supreme Court of Victoria and the County Court of Victoria (‘the higher courts’) from July 2009 to June 2014.

The study includes a total of 9,618 cases and 35,902 charges sentenced in the higher courts during the reference period (2009–10 to 2013–14).

Since 2008, section 6AAA of the Victorian Sentencing Act 1991 has required sentencing judges (in certain circumstances) to state the sentence that they would have imposed if the offender had not pleaded guilty. Subtracting the actual sentence from this notional undiscounted sentence reveals the stated reduction in sentence, or ‘discount’ for the guilty plea.

As well as making the discounts more transparent to the parties in the case, the very high compliance with section 6AAA in the higher courts has enabled extensive data collection on plea-based sentence discounts for the first time in Victoria. During the reference period (2009–10 to 2013–14), there were over 7,000 higher court cases with sufficient detail in the 6AAA  statement to analyse the reductions awarded for guilty pleas. A unique feature of these data is that the information about the plea-based reduction is sourced directly from the sentencing judges.

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