You receive a call from the police to attend at the station with a bailor.
Your investigation officer tells you that the police have concluded their investigations and have decided to press charges against you.
Hundreds of thoughts race through your mind. You don’t know what to do.
The officer then tells you that you have to attend court on a certain date and time. He then passes to you the charge sheets.
You look at the charges and you see a bunch of words describing an offence that you may or may not have committed. You also see words such as a minimum sentence or a maximum sentence.
Immediately, you have several questions. How long are you going to be in jail? Can you just pay a fine or ask for probation? How much longer do you have before you end up in prison?
In order to find answers to your questions, you start to desperately look around for lawyers. You go online and type “criminal lawyers in Singapore” or call a friend or relative who may know lawyers who do criminal cases.
You are worried and you feel as though your life has come to a halt. With the possibility of a jail term looming over your head, you are unable to think clearly.
Take a deep breath in.
Being charged is not the end of the matter.
There is still a lot to do.
What to do when you are charged?
First, you seek legal advice on the charges. Your criminal lawyer will listen to your story and study the charges.
Are the charges correctly framed? Are you being charged under the correct provision? Should the charge be a lesser charge? Are you facing more than 1 charge for 1 offence? Is there a chance to contest the charges?
These are all matters which your lawyer will consider and advise you on. A criminal case is not about dollars and cents. Sometimes, it’s about life and death. Often, it’s about your liberty and freedom.
After having considered all the matters, your lawyer will write letters to the Prosecution. These letters are called representations.
The purpose of the representations is to negotiate with the Prosecution – e.g. to ask for the charges to be dropped, to ask for the number of charges to be reduced, to ask for information and documents, to ask for the Prosecution’s position on the sentence etc.
The Plea Bargain Negotiation Process
The entire process of negotiating with the Prosecution is called the plea bargain process.
Negotiations may be representations in the form of:
- Writing to the Prosecution from the accused and their Defence Counsel
- In-person negotiations
In Singapore, in person negotiations can also take place in two forums:
Criminal Case Management System (CCMS): The Prosecution and Defence Counsel will meet in private to discuss the case.
Criminal Case Resolution (CCR) Program: The CCR Program allows the Prosecution and Defence Counsel to explore the early resolution of the case, facilitated by a district judge as a neutral party.
So when writing letters isn’t enough, your lawyers discuss issues at the CCMS.
The defence counsel will go head to head with the prosecution to sort:
- The seriousness of the alleged crime;
- The strength of the evidence in the case; or
- The prospects of a guilty verdict at trial.
Your lawyers may get to see your statements, statements made by witnesses or other persons who have charged along with you. Your lawyers may also negotiate with the Prosecution on the charges and the possible sentence.
Must I be present at court for my hearings?
If you have a criminal lawyer, you only have to attend the important hearings – e.g. your first Mention (i.e. your first Court date), the plead guilty hearing and trial.
Depending on the case, your lawyer may be able to attend all other Court sessions and you do not have to be present in Court.
Attending Court can be a scary thing. You might be worried about what the Judge might say and whether you will be able to understand what is being said.
You might also be asked questions.
Implications of Pleading Guilty / Not Guilty
After the plea bargaining process and 3 – 4 Court sessions, the time has finally come for you to make a decision.
Usually, in all criminal matters, after a certain stage, you have to decide between pleading guilty and claiming trial.
What happens when someone pleads guilty?
Pleading guilty means that you accept the charges.
Your lawyer will inform the Court at one of the Mentions that you wish to plead guilty and the Court will fix the matter for a Plead Guilty (PG) hearing. At this PG hearing, you will be convicted, and a sentence will be given.
What happens when someone pleads not guilty?
Claiming trial means that you are fighting the charges.
For most criminal cases that go to trial, there is a process called Criminal Case Disclosure Conference (“CCDC”). Under the CCDC process, the Prosecution will state its case.
You will also have to state your case. Once the documents are all filed and exchanged, the Court will fix the matter for trial. At the trial, you will by subject to intensive cross-examination.
The Prosecution will ask you many questions.
Similarly, your lawyer will ask the Prosecution’s witnesses many questions.
These questions can range from whether the police did their investigations properly to whether the victim was honest when he or she made a complaint against you.
At the end of the trial, the Court will decide whether you are innocent or guilty. If you are found guilty, a sentence will be given.
When Should You Accept a Plea Bargain?
When an offer made by the prosecution, your lawyers will help you assess the facts and circumstances of the case. If it’s the best offer you, the accused, then accept.
The assessment is seen in terms of a comparison. By going to trial, what are the chances of success vs settling for the current offer?
The fact that you plead guilty is a mitigating factor and your sentence will be lower.
Sentencing After Plea Bargain is Reached
- The prosecution will submit a sentence which they deem appropriate
- Your lawyer will in response submit a mitigation plea.
- The Court determines what is the appropriate sentence.
What is a mitigation plea?
A mitigation plea in general contains the facts leading up to the commission of the offence, mitigating factors that might reduce your sentence and sentencing precedents. Mitigating factors can include:
a. your personal background e.g. your medical history / whether you are first-time offender/ if you are the sole breadwinner in your family;
b. the circumstances behind the commission of the offence;
c. other specific mitigating factors can include if you have pleaded guilty at the first instance, the minimal harm that was suffered by the victim, if you were cooperative with the authorities during investigation and how you have shown your remorse.
Why is a mitigation plea important?
A mitigation plea is crucial in persuading the Judge to lighten your sentence after you have pleaded guilty. The aim of a mitigation plea is to obtain the lightest and most appropriate punishment possible for the offence committed.
The Effect on Sentencing in Criminal Cases
Will I get a harsher sentence based on my criminal history?
Antecedents (past criminal records) are relevant sentencing evidence. But wait, it’s not a lost cause yet!
If your past offences happened a long time ago, or if it was a completely unrelated offence, the defence might be able to persuade the Prosecution to take a more forgiving position.
When it comes to determining the sentencing after the plea bargain, there is a need for specific deterrence. If you have a higher propensity to commit the offence again, the sentence will be harsher.
Can I get a lighter sentence if I have personal issues?
Although physical evidence hold a much larger weightage in determining your sentence, personal circumstances are also a factor to consider.
Health concerns (especially when it comes to caning), past contributions to society, financial restrictions on your family are some areas that will make a difference.
Getting Legal Help with Your Case and Potential Plea Bargain
Whether you’ve just committed an offence and you’re facing charges now or you’re worried that you might in the future, a plea bargain should definitely be your first choice.
And while the thought of a lighter sentence (even better, just a fine) is appealing, there are still going to be some risks involved. That’s why we highly recommend you get an experienced criminal lawyer to help assess and fight your case.
Talk to our team, we as a criminal law firm in Singapore are here to help.