A guide to insisting on a lower sentence from an experienced nonviolent activist.
Please note: This is activist information not legal information. This article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Why I should have No Conviction Or No Penalty for this thing that I am pleading Guilty or Not Guilty for.
Advocating for yourself and pursuing mitigation is an act of assertive behaviour against repression.
- Ask for a pen and paper.
- Ask for time to jot these things down.
- Don’t let them hurry you.
- Raising things now and having them rejected may allow for appeals.
- Challenge any alternate facts: correct the story [without pleading not guilty if you have chosen to plead guilty].
Introduction to Mitigation
Slow it down! Take up space! Use a loud voice! Some things you could say:
- “I’d like you to be fully informed in this matter your honour.”
- “I’m pleading guilty in the interests of the resource of this court but it is a complex context that has brought me here today.”
- “It’s a complex context in which I chose to… [insert your description of the activity here, if pleading guilty]”.
Let them know who you are
Spell out the aspects of yourself, as an upstanding citizen:
- My personal circumstances – who I live with, who I love, who loves me.
- Who I am responsible for, dependents.
- Where I work, how I organise my life.
- Where I volunteer, what I’m involved in.
- How this act fits [or is extraordinary] with my life.
- Parent, Grandparent, Carer of… [details here – be proud].
Call people to the stand to speak on your behalf
- You can call people to speak about you! You should ask to do this. “I’d like to call xxxxx to the stand to speak about me – they are a very important person who has known me for a long time”.
- Provide letters from other people who can’t attend.
Why I was called to do THIS, and why NOW!
- Why I did it.
- What I tried before and how it has failed.
- What I believe.
- How I feel about the issue and why I think it is important.
How the act was done
- How there was no danger to myself, others or police.
- How it was planned [emphasise thoughtful organisation].
- How I was respectful of all.
- For the greater good, not personal gain.
How the arrest was made
- I was respectful of police.
- I was cooperative within the limits of my creative work.
- Give examples and highlight elements of the arrangements.
The history and context of Civil Disobedience
- A short speech referencing your favourite nonviolence heroes.
- You have discretion to give a short speech such as “I’d like to note that I am acting within my democratic rights and conscience and that these sorts of activities strengthen democracy and put limits on rampant colonial capitalism”.
- Lord Hoffman (UK) while dismissive of nonviolence and against nonguilty pleas argues that sentencing should take the value and history of civil disobedience into account and should be sentenced more lightly. See the following quote.
Civil disobedience on conscientious grounds has a long and honourable history in this country. People who break the law to affirm their belief in the injustice of a law or government action are sometimes vindicated by history. The suffragettes are an example which comes immediately to mind. It is the mark of a civilised community that it can accommodate protests and demonstrations of this kind. But there are conventions which are generally accepted by the law-breakers on one side and the law-enforcers on the other. The protesters behave with a sense of proportion and do not cause excessive damage or inconvenience. And they vouch the sincerity of their beliefs by accepting the penalties imposed by the law. The police and prosecutors, on the other hand, behave with restraint and the magistrates impose sentences which take the conscientious motives of the protesters into account.
Lord Hoffmann, Lord of Appeal, in R v Jones and others, House of Lords, 2006
Other relevant information
- If you have a history of similar charges outline them and mention that deterrence is not being a relevant sentencing principle. When they show your record be proud, point out similarities in other charges [don’t refer to any minor non-political criminal charges].
- Early [or late] plea of guilty.
- Financial situation.
Summary and Sentencing Request
- “Therefore I request your honour that no conviction be recorded.”
- “And I suggest that no penalty should be given as I am already heavily involved in community activities…”
- “I already have to pay the offender levy [in Queensland]”.
- Civil disobedience
- Court cases
- Direct action - Non violent NVDA
- Legal rights
- Sentences (Criminal procedure)