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Forgive the basic questions, I know nothing about law. I’m writing a novel that ends with a serious crime and I’d be so grateful for assistance.

A StackExchange user from the US suggested that a genuinely remorseful criminal could offer a plea-bargained confession in court, where he explains in detail what drove him to commit the crime he did.

Is there such a concept in English law?

Would the victim be expected to appear in court to hear such a confession? Or, if they decided they didn’t want to appear, could it be made in a statement to the court and passed to the victim. Or, would it go on public record?

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Considering that the US legal system is more or less similar in practice to the English Courts, yes it is possible to plea bargian a deal. I'm linking to the wikipedia article on the matter with a specific link to the England and Wales for guidence. Normally, I'd explain, but I'm an American and the differences between Magistrate and Crown courts are big enough differences that I can't tell you what the differences in the case is.

I should point out this is a legal area where America differences with much of the world. 90% of the United States criminal cases (and a good number of civil cases, which are settled privately before discovery phase) are plea bargained to lesser sentences. Additionally remorse has nothing to do with the plea bargain. You might only be sorry that you got caught breaking the law and can still plea. The lighter sentence is sort of a "thank you" for saving the state money in not having to build their case against you.

It is also used to coerce cooperation with the police, as they may have the accused dead to rights and can prosecute him successfully, but he's a little fish who can give intel to a big fish (this usually comes with the caveat of it being a sworn statement, so they can still prosecute you for something if you're lying... OR that the deal holds on condition that everything is factually true. If evidence contradicts you, you're charged as if you never made a deal). It's also important to note that the police will not honor their deals made for your confession... but they will offer you deals (In the United States, police are allowed to lie to you and do it all the time). However, the prosecutor will honor their deals.

Another thing to be aware of is that a prosecutor who offers a plea could be doing so because they have a weak case. If you are absolutely sure the prosecutor has the wrong guy, it may be to your benefit to go to trial and have them prove it. Innocent people do go to jail all the time because they think there is something worse on them than the plea deal and its hard to fight off as you cannot appeal a plea deal as easily as a court conviction.

Finally, most jurisdictions allow the judge final say at sentencing, so if the prosecutor does honor the deal and advises the sentence, don't get upset if the judge is tougher and gives you a harsher sentence on the crime, or rejects your plea outright (expect him to scold the prosecutor for wasting his time with a horrible deal, too. Watch the Law and Order SVU episode Raw for a particularly wonderful instance of this rare event occurring). As a part of US federalism, the rules about this change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so make sure you understand this. Another thing to be aware of is that a prosecutor who offers a plea could be doing so because they have a weak case. If you are absolutely sure the prosecutor has the wrong guy, it may be to your benefit to go to trial and have them prove it. Innocent people do go to jail all the time because they think there is something worse on them than the plea deal and its hard to fight off as you cannot appeal a plea deal as easily as a court conviction.

I would definitely do some leg work into the English Legal system's opinions on plea bargains. Just because they have it does not mean the state lawyers like employing it and many jurisdictions see it as full on corruption in other parts of the world, even the Common Law jurisdictions.

  • I would say Wikipedia is misleading here. Mitigation of sentence for pleading guilty is ancient and nearly universal; the guidelines referred to just formalize this. In England and Wales, however, a prosecutor's offer of an agreed sentence in return for a guilty plea would be both corrupt and unenforceable. – Tim Lymington Feb 15 '18 at 23:01
  • hszmv and @TimLymington thank you! You have no idea what a jam you're helping me out of. Very tight deadline. So, if the defendant goes for the plea with a full confession right out of the gate, presumably the prosecutor receives that confession? Could a member of the public get access to it? If not, could a police officer involved in the crime get access to it? – GGx Feb 16 '18 at 10:42
  • @GGx: Again, I'm not familiar with the English Legal System beyond it's close enough. In the United States, all evidence against the Defendant is out in the open. The prosecution gets no surprise witnesses, no newly found evidence, and cannot hide evidence that would work against their case. In the U.S. all trials are publicly accessible unless a witness has some privacy concerns (like they are still undercover) but the jury and accused are still able to hear the testimony. The only people who cannot attend a trial are witnesses that are testifying for either side. – hszmv Feb 16 '18 at 19:16
  • @GGx: That said, the confession should be written down and again, available to the public unless there are no issues unique to the British Equivalent of Freedom of Information Act (the law that allows U.S. citizens to request documents from any government agency) – hszmv Feb 16 '18 at 19:40
  • @hszmv Thank you, you're a star. I'll see if I can find any difference between US and UK in that regard. – GGx Feb 17 '18 at 7:32

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