If a person has committed a crime punishable by a fine and was not caught, but wants to pay the fine for moral reasons, is it possible to plead guilty and pay the fine without being charged with a crime?

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    Which opens up an interesting side question: Is it possible to bring a private prosecution against oneself, so that there are charges to plead guilty to? Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 22:12
  • @WGroleau it's tagged [any-jurisdiction], so answers from anywhere are allowed.
    – Someone
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 16:55
  • 1
    The person could send the money to a charity. Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 18:09

4 Answers 4


If a person has committed a crime punishable by a fine and was not caught, but wants to pay the fine for moral reasons, is it possible to plead guilty and pay the fine without being charged with a crime?


The process doesn't begin until charges are filed, so there is nothing to plead guilty to.

This could also have undesirable double jeopardy consequences, if this were allowed. This is because it would allow someone to plead guilty to a minor offense that would be an impediment to bringing more serious charges later when all of the facts were known to prosecutors as illustrated by fact patterns like a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 2022 where a defendant got a lenient sentence for a lesser offense in tribal court (punished by 140 days in jail) and then tried to use that (unsuccessfully) to bar a serious felony prosecution for sexual abuse in U.S. District Court, for which he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. But, this argument failed solely because the tribal case was based upon tribal sovereignty and not upon federal sovereignty. The second prosecution would not have been allowed if it had been brought by the same government. (The legal issue that the Supreme Court decided was that a multi-tribe tribal court that was set up by the federal government did not count as a federal government prosecution for double jeopardy purposes.)

  • It would, however, be possible to pay the fine (although the government would not consider it such, simply a voluntary payment to the general fund). Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 22:02
  • @SoronelHaetir that could work, but then if the government did find out about the crime and decided to prosecute the person, they would end up paying the fine twice, right?
    – Someone
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 22:17
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    @SoronelHaetir Thus, payment of the "fine" would have no legal consequences and there would be no credit for it if a prosecution was later brought.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 22:18
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    @komodosp Prosecutors and law enforcement are under no duty to press charges even if someone confesses to a crime.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 9:39
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    @komodosp Maybe. Normal people wait until the statute of limitations has run, get it off their chest before then in privileged communications confessing their guilt to an attorney, spouse, or priest, and ask a spouse or priest for advice on how to do penance for their wrongs if they can't come up wth a solution themselves.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 9:52

You can't just plead guilty, but you can file charges against anyone, including yourself. This will, at first, be treated just the same way as if someone else filed charges against you, with the police questioning you and trying to find evidence that's independent of your testimony. At this point, the charges might be dropped if the evidence is deemed insufficient (but if the same person does this repeatedly, they might get charged with abuse of process).

If a court comes to a decision, it may lower or even forego the punishment, as there are various sections in the criminal code where active remorse allows it to do so (the linked section is not the only one; search the document for active remorse).

Especially in tax law, section 371 defines that a Selbstanzeige (filing charges against yourself) allows you to avoid punishment for tax evasion under some circumstances (your tax evasion hasn't been detected yet, you disclose everything, you pay the avoided taxes, ...). It is generally suggested to involve a lawyer specializing in tax law for this, as it's easy to mess up which will nullify the Selbstanzeige. Whether or not this law should be kept is subject to debate every now and then; the supporters arguing that this allows the state to collect tax in cases it wouldn't normally have discovered, while the opponents point out that this opportunity lowers the bar for evading taxes in the first place.

  • Selbstanzeige does have another effect: it speeds up many parts of the trial.
    – Trish
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 20:04
  • I'm not sure the "Anzeige" is really comparable to "file charges" – I'd always understood the latter as "Anklage". Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 1:01
  • @PaŭloEbermann Leo.org translates "file charges" with "Anzeige erstatten", and there are many stories like this where a woman says "I’m going to call the police and file charges against you for harassment!”, so I think "Anzeige" is correct. But maybe a native speaker can shed more light on this. Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 7:08
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    As a native speaker I would say that "Anzeige (erstatten)" is equal to filing charges, while "Anklage (erheben)" is what prosecutors do in court (blanking on the english term here)
    – Marcel
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 9:54
  • @Marcel Maybe filing charges (Anzeige erstatten) vs. pressing charges (Anklage erheben)?
    – Falco
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 12:40

A court has no jurisdiction to deal with a guilty plea unless it is dealing with an indictment of the accused. Without a charge, there is no criminal proceeding, and any guilty plea would just be into the void, with no legal effect.


You can't "plead guilty" until you are charged and brought before a court. The word you are looking for is "confess". You can, if you wish, walk into a police station and tell them that you committed a crime. It's up to them (or whoever prosecutes crimes in your country) if they want to pursue it or not.

If you are talking about something like a traffic offence, or other minor issue then it's highly likely that no action will be taken. In fact your confession might not be very welcome. It's possible that forcing them to follow up on your confession is actually taking them away from investigating higher priority crimes. In any case it will take a certain amount of time for them to follow it up, even with your cooperation. That time will cost the police money, so your fine won't actually benefit your government as much as you think.

If I might suggest an alternative course of action - if you morally want to pay for the crime you know you committed, find out how much the fine would be under normal circumstances and pay it to somebody. Most governments do accept donations, though it can be hard to find out how to do it. Alternatively give the money to a charity. You've paid the debt you feel you owe, and you've probably benefitted the world more than if you had been given the fine.

I realise this isn't strictly an answer about the law, but I hope it will be kept as a practical alternative.

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