When a suspected criminal is arraigned, there are three main options available to him with respect to plea:
1. A plea of guilty
2. A plea of no guilty and
3. Remaining mute, in which case a no guilty plea is entered for the suspect.
By pleading guilty, you are telling the judge that you understand that you have a right to have a trial where the Prosecution has to prove the charges against you, and that by pleading guilty, you are giving up that right.
Remember, if you plead guilty, unless there are exceptional circumstances, you can’t come back later and say you didn’t mean to plead guilty and that you want to have a trial instead.
A plea of no guilty, means that you understand that you have a right to have a trial, whereby the Prosecution would have to prove the charges against you beyond reasonable doubt.
In most cases, suspects plead guilty for lack of knowledge, especially so, when they are not represented. In such instances, it is expected of the Judge to substitute the guilty plea for not guilty to allow for full trial to hear the side of the suspect.
Should the Judge have to enter the plea of guilty simpliciter, it is required of him to do a Plea inquiry.
A plea inquiry is a series of four questions that the judge will likely ask you in court before they allow you to plead guilty.
The plea inquiry is done so;
a. the judge knows you understand what it means to plead guilty;
b. that you are aware of your option to plead not guilty and have a trial; and
c. that you are aware of what can happen to you if plead guilty.
The plea inquiry questions are:
The decision to plead guilty is yours, and yours alone. It is not up to your lawyer or anyone else – though your lawyer (or counsel) will have given you legal advice to help you make your decision. The judge will want to know that nobody is forcing you to plead guilty. If you have been forced or coerced into pleading guilty, the judge will not accept your guilty plea.
Pleading guilty “just to get your case over with” is not an acceptable reason in criminal court. You must have truthfully done something that amounts to an offence in order to plead guilty. You must also have the proper guilty state of mind at the time of the offence to plead guilty.
It is very important to understand what the Prosecution is asking for as a sentence before you make a decision to plead guilty. You should also be aware of the sentence that your lawyer (or counsel) is asking for. In some cases, your lawyer or counsel may be asking for the same sentence as the Prosecution. This is called a joint submission. If your lawyer and the Prosecution have a joint submission for the judge, the judge does not necessarily have to agree to it.
Are you pleading guilty voluntarily?
Do you understand that by pleading guilty that you are admitting to facts that make up a criminal offence?
Do you understand the consequences of a guilty plea, including that you are giving up your right to have a trial by pleading guilty?
Do you understand that the judge does not have to follow the sentence that your lawyer and/or the Prosecution are recommending ?
After asking these questions, it is required of the judge to record your answers/responses in the record of proceedings before he convicts and sentences you.
The mistakes of some of our Judges in criminal trials in Ghana is that, suspected criminals are convicted and sentenced on their own guilty plea without the benefit of a plea inquiry. In effect, the Prosecution always have sentences against suspected criminals who are not represented, albeit, not guilty of the offence charged with.
Many are languishing in jail for pleading guilty simpliciter on the advise of Police Investigators and or Prosecutors. That is part of the injustice of our system.
Source : Tvnewsgh.com