The varied reasons behind 'not guilty'

By Andrew Bonallack

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But it feels to me, judging on the strike rate just lately, defended hearings don't seem to go the defendant's way all that often.
But it feels to me, judging on the strike rate just lately, defended hearings don't seem to go the defendant's way all that often.

IN WHAT might be considered a "Part 2" in my analysis of court matters, I've had to raise my eyebrows a bit lately over why people plead not guilty in court.

It is everyone's right to do so, of course. Those cases before the courts right now, I can't comment on their merits, because that outcome has yet to be determined.

But it feels to me, judging on the strike rate just lately, defended hearings don't seem to go the defendant's way all that often.

There are several reasons why a person would plead not guilty. One, because they're innocent of the crime. Two, they are not guilty, in their perception, of the charges laid by police - but they may have broken the law in some fashion. They could simply feel the charges are too high, the penalties too harsh, and there are inaccuracies in the police case that need to be thrashed out.

Pleading not guilty allows your lawyer to present an argument and convince a judge - or a jury.

Sometimes cases are about negotiation, especially after arguments in court. Pleas can be changed. Or you could still be found guilty, but the judge can take your arguments into account in sentencing.

And third, a person could be as guilty as hell and is hoping their lawyer can keep them out of jail.

I admire our legal system, and enjoy watching it in action, but sometimes my mind boggles at the cost of a defended hearing. In a recent case in Masterton, a scientist and expert in glass had to be brought in to testify after a woman pleaded not guilty to dealing to windows with an aluminium softball bat (she was found guilty). In another instance, a defendant clearly thought he had a shot in convincing an appeal judge it really wasn't him falling off a moped in a drunken state; the witness had got it wrong. The appeal judge disagreed.

This country has seen the benefit of challenging court decisions, particularly in landmark instances such as David Bain and Arthur Allan Thomas. The right to justice is the foundation of our system. But I often wonder if, a lot of the time, it appears to be more about the right to use it as a system - which favours the defendant - to avoid the consequences of your actions.

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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