Pleas, Charge Negotiation

Pleas, Charge Negotiation

After an alleged offender is charged with a crime, he/she must appear in court for the charge to be heard:

– Will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty

– A guilty plea means no criminal hearing, only the penalty needs to be imposed.

– A not guilty plea needs a criminal hearing to determine the guilt of the accused

– Sometimes charge negotiation (also known as plea bargaining) occurs. During charge negotiation the prosecution and defence meet before the trial and the defence agrees that the accused will plead guilty is the prosecution reduces the charge. Charge negotiation is one of the main ways discretion is used in the court and adjudication process.


  • A charge is a form of accusation against a person.
  • It does not imply guilt; the courts will determine this.
  • Charges can be handed out by police, or other law enforcement agencies (e.g. Australian Customs, Border Protection Service).


  • The plea is the accused’s stance on his or her guilt
  • Guilty Plea: The case will be dealt with quickly; there is no question about the defendant’s guilt. Therefore, sentencing is the only thing to take place
  • Not Guilty Plea: The guilt is not assured, and the case must go to trial to determine it. Evidence and witnesses will be needed
  • No plea: Taken to mean ‘not guilty’


  • This refers to the negotiation of charges between the defence and the prosecution.
  • It is used to get the accused to plead guilty to an offence.
  • Plea bargaining can occur in many different ways:
  • If the accused is facing several charges, the more minor charges may be dropped if the defendant pleads guilty.
    • Judges may admit that there will be a likely guilty verdict, therefore the accused should just plead guilty
    • The charge may be reduced to a lesser charged if the accused pleads guilty (e.g. from murder to manslaughter)


Extract from Legal Studies Stage 6 Syllabus. © 2009 Board of Studies NSW.