At the defendant's first appearance in court the charge is read out so that the offence that the defendant is charged with is clear. Usually the defendant is not required to enter a plea (that is to say whether she or he is guilty or not guilty) at this first appearance, and should not do so, without legal advice.
The defendant's options are:
- Ask that the case be adjourned to a later date so that she or he can obtain legal advice (without telling the court whether she or he is going to plead guilty or not guilty), see Adjournments below; or
- Plead guilty and the court will try to finalise the matter on that day, see Pleading guilty below; or
- Tell the magistrate that they intend to plead not guilty. The matter is usually adjourned for a trial on another date, as the court would not have time to hear the case immediately, nor would the prosecution be ready with witnesses, see Pleading not guilty below.
It is important that the defendant get legal advice about their plea as soon as possible. If a defendant enters a guitly plea within 4 weeks of her or his first appearance in court, then the court may reduce the sentence that would otherwise have been imposed by up to 40 per cent (although there are some sentences that can never be reduced). The closer a matter gets to trial the less the court may reduce the sentence [see Criminal Law (Sentencing Act) 1989 (SA) s 10B].
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