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If you get charged with a crime that will be handled by the Crown Court, your first hearing is almost always a plea and trial preparation hearing (PTPH). This is a very important meeting that decides how your case will ultimately be handled, so it is normal to have a lot of questions about what might happen. This article will outline what is likely to take place at this hearing and explain the potential outcomes. By understanding the process, you can feel more prepared and confident going into your hearing.
A plea and trial preparation hearing is a court session that takes place in the Crown Court. At this hearing, you will meet with your solicitor (having already discussed your plea) and several procedural matters will be decided. These matters include discussing plea options, entering your plea, deciding on timetables for trial hearings, as well as receiving and agreeing upon any bail conditions.
At a plea and trial preparation hearing, the judge will explain the procedure for the hearing itself. All parties involved in your case – including yourself, your lawyer, and any witnesses – will be present to answer questions put forward by the judge. The judge may also review any evidence that has been gathered against you or deal with any special questions that might arise.
After this, discussion will take place about plea options, such as pleading guilty or not guilty. If plea discussions are successful and a plea is entered, the judge will then decide whether to accept it or reject it.
If plea negotiations fail or the defendant enters a not guilty plea (or refuses to enter a plea altogether), the court may set a date for a trial hearing. At this point, all parties must agree to a timetable for the trial hearing and discuss any bail conditions. This is also when a plea of no case to answer or special plea may be entered.
A plea is a response to criminal charges, and the options are generally ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. When you enter a plea of guilty, you state that you accept responsibility for the crime. If you plead not guilty, you are claiming your innocence and a trial will be scheduled. In some cases, it may be possible to plea bargain or plea to a lesser charge, but a solicitor will usually have told you about these options beforehand.
When you enter plea discussions with the judge, you will be asked to give an indication of plea. This means that you must make a decision about whether to plead guilty or not guilty before the plea and trial preparation hearing ends. This is important because it allows the court to plan for any further action in your case.
Related to indication of plea is indication of sentence. An indication of sentence is when the accused is told what the maximum sentence could be if they plead guilty to the crime with which they have been charged. Note that being given an indication of sentence does not mean that this is definitely the sentence you will get if found guilty – it is only what the maximum could be.
If plea discussions are successful and a plea is accepted, the judge will then decide what sentence to impose. If the crime for which you stand accused is one that would result in imprisonment, it is likely that the judge will order you to be kept in police custody until your sentencing hearing. The exceptions to this are if the crime is not particularly serious and you are not deemed to be a risk to yourself or the public.
If you plead not guilty or if the plea discussions otherwise fail, the court may set a date for trial hearings. Sometimes, there is a delay in timetabling due to court processes/availability of witnesses, etc.
If plea negotiations result in a plea of no case to answer or a special plea, then the defence team must submit their request in writing with supporting evidence before any further action can take place.
According to rules set by the Sentencing Council, pleading guilty to a crime in England and Wales may reduce your sentence depending on (a) the circumstances of the case and (b) the timing of your plea.
A guilty plea entered on the first available opportunity – which for most offenders will be the plea and trial preparation hearing – usually results in a one third reduction in the length of any sentence later handed down.
After this point, the length of the reduction is decided based on how much time remains before trial. If you plead not guilty at the plea and trial preparation hearing and later change your plea to guilty, the maximum you can receive is a one quarter reduction and the minimum is a one tenth reduction. The latest date that you can change your plea to guilty and receive any form of sentence reduction is the last day before your trial.
It is important to remember that people are only allowed to plead guilty if they are actually guilty of the crime. Pleading guilty when you are innocent of the crime is equivalent to lying in court, which may even lead to further prosecution.
That said, it is – oddly enough – not all that uncommon for innocent people to plead guilty. Reasons for this may include:
If you are innocent, it is never advisable to plead guilty unless there is highly compelling evidence against you and – after very careful consideration – your legal representation has advised you to ‘cut your losses’ with the shorter punishment.
A plea and trial preparation hearing can involve a lot of moving parts, depending on the complexity of your case. The good news, however, is that entering your plea literally takes as long as it takes you to say the words ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. The rest of the time will be spent arranging next steps and reviewing any pressing pre-trial matters that affect trial preparation.
If you refuse to enter a plea by either stating that you refuse or remaining silent, the judge will consider you to have entered a not guilty plea and will progress the case to trial.
As a defendant, you can and should attend the plea hearing because this is your chance to enter your plea yourself. As mentioned, in your absence, the judge will progress the case to trial anyway.
It is also possible for members of the public to attend plea hearings in most cases. Some particularly sensitive cases (such as terrorism cases) do not allow the public to attend.
A mode of trial hearing is the hearing in which it is decided which court your case will be heard in. This normally takes place after the plea and trial preparation hearing. In most cases, it will be decided that your case is heard in the Crown Court. However, if the facts of your case are relatively simple or don’t carry a particularly harsh sentence, it may be decided that you can be tried in the Magistrates’ court instead.
If the judge believes that you are likely to commit further crimes or abscond before your trial, they may decide to remand you in custody. This means that, instead of being allowed to await your trial on bail at home, you will be sent to a prison.
This should not be taken as an indication that you are definitely guilty, as you are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. However, if the court decides that your incarceration is necessary for the safety of others or to prevent any further criminal activity, they may decide it is best to keep you in custody until your trial.
If you are remanded in custody before your trial, it is common for the judge to reduce any later sentence by the amount of time you spent in remand prior to trial and sentencing.
If you are facing a plea and trial preparation hearing and need more information, or you want advice on how to plead, get in touch with an experienced criminal defence firm today. The earlier you prepare for this important hearing, the better you will feel about how proceedings might unfold before you. For a free, no obligation consultation about your options, get in touch with the team at Stuart Miller Solicitors without delay.
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