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Court of Appeal judgment on reducing sentence following a late stage guilty plea

R v Reid Yaanan Gabriel Raphael, Shannon Louise Roberts [2019] EWCA Crim 2346

The Court of Appeal clarified the correct approach to reducing a sentence following a guilty plea and Newton hearing.

 Details

 The two appellants, aged 19 and 21, pleaded guilty to two offences; conspiracy to rob and conspiracy to carry an imitation firearm with criminal intent. Although the trial was scheduled for a certain date, several matters had to be dealt with on the day itself. As a result, a jury had not been sworn in by the time Ms Roberts pleaded guilty on the day after it was due to commence, nor had any presentation of evidence begun. Mr Reid had pleaded guilty on the day the trial was scheduled to commence.

Newton hearings were held following the guilty pleas, at which Ms Roberts was partially successful on a material question. She was sentenced to two concurrent terms of six years imprisonment. The hearing in relation to Mr Reid was not successful for him and he was sentenced to eight years and three months in a young offender institution. The sentencing judge did not grant a reduction to either appellant in reference to the guilty pleas.

The appeal concerned the judge’s decision-making on the question of discount for the guilty pleas. The definitive sentencing guideline, in relation to Newton hearings, sets out that where the defendant’s version of events is rejected at such a hearing, the reduction which would have been available when the plea was indicated should normally be halved. In the appellants’ case, this indicated a one-fifth reduction as the guidelines indicated a maximum of a one-tenth reduction in sentence for pleas entered into on the first day of trial.

The Court of Appeal held that it was not within the trial judge’s range of discretion to award no reduction for the guilty pleas. It rejected his reasons for doing so, namely that both the defendants ‘knew they were guilty’ and ‘that it was clearly within their power, however young or immature they might be, to have indicated that guilt at an earlier point’ [paragraph 7]. The Court therefore reduced Ms Roberts’ sentence by four months and Mr Reid’s by five months. These adjustments were ‘admittedly modest’ but were made ‘on grounds of principle’ [paragraph 19].

Commentary

The Court clarified an important point relating to reducing sentences for guilty pleas. The purpose of allowing a reduction in sentence in these circumstances is to encourage those who are going to plead guilty to do so as early in the process as possible. The lack of success at a Newton hearing does not remove this reduction altogether, nor does a defendant’s capability to enter into a guilty plea earlier necessarily affect this reduction (as indicated in [paragraph 7]).