Sentencing indications in period 2011 to June 2014

A quarter of sentencing indication applications are falling through. 

Despite thousands of applications made by people wanting to determine what their sentences might be if they plead guilty before trial, a quarter are not coming to fruition, figures show.

Following introduction of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, defendants can now request a sentence indication from a judge as to what their sentence might be if they plead guilty to a crime before trial.

Figures obtained by the Manawatu Standard newspaper from the Ministry of Justice using the Official Information Act show 4498 applications were made nationally for sentencing indications between 2011 and June 2014.

A total of 2617 applications resulted in guilty pleas, while 752 pleaded not guilty.

The remaining 25% - 1129 applications – were either rejected by judges or withdrawn, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson says.

The relevant law dictates that courts “may give a sentence indication”, giving judges the ability not to refuse them.

The figures do not show how many defendants applied, as people can make multiple applications.

Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue says it is not the case that 25% of all applications for sentence indicates are rejected. 

“I have requested information on this matter which indicates that 82% of sentence indication applications are granted by the courts, 14% are withdrawn or discontinued by the defendant, and 4% are rejected.”

Anecdotally, Judge Doogue says the main reason a sentence indication would be rejected is due to there already having been a sentence indication given for those charges.

“I understand that there are some instances where the outcome of a sentence indication application is not recorded by court staff.

“This often happens where the application is determined in a list court and the matter proceeds immediately to sentence.”

This accounts for some of the difference between the number of applications, and the number of guilty and not guilty pleas, she says.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows says prior to the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, sentence indications were rarely given in the High Court because most High Court Judges considered that legislative authorisation was required for this practice.

Sentence indications were designed to minimise the scope for abuse, he says.

The prosecutor and the defendant must agree with the summary of facts, the judge must have the defendant’s previous convictions and victim impact statement, and the judge must be satisfied they have sufficient information in order for a sentence indication to take place.

Sentence indications are working well, he says.  

The number of sentence indications requested and given has increased steadily since the Act came into force on 5 March 2012.