Can I get a reduced sentence by helping the police?
You may have heard about ‘texts’ or a ‘brown envelope to the Judge’, some of the names for the old system by which someone could get a reduced sentence.
If you helped the police, a ‘text’ may be handed to the sentencing judge explaining that you had assisted and a reduction in sentence may have followed. It was a murky world, clouded in some secrecy and one that few people properly understood.
A formal statutory system has now been put in place to regulate reduction in sentence for a defendant who aids the authorities, although the ‘text’ regime is still around.
The aim of the new regime is to govern assistance provided and the benefits that might flow as a result.
The old principles (the text) remain in use as it has always been the case that anyone convicted of a crime will receive credit against sentence for assistance rendered to the police or authorities.
Requirements under the new regime
The key features of the statutory scheme are:
- The offender must admit the full extent of his own criminality before the statutory framework can begin to apply, and he must agree to participate in a formalised process which has its own immediate purposes intended to avoid some of the problems which the earlier processes could create.
- Provided the offender admits the full extent of his criminality the process is not confined to offenders who provide assistance in relation to crimes in which they participated, or were accessories, or with which they are linked.
- This is largely a new process in which a post-sentence review of the sentence passed in the Crown Court can be reviewed in a judicial process on a reference back to the court by the prosecutor. That does not prevent there being such an analysis during a Crown Court sentencing decision.
- The decision whether a reduction in sentence should follow a post-sentence agreement is vested in the judge sitting in the Crown Court. The court is able to take into account the specific post-sentence situation. That is quite different from the former practice.
- If in the end the offender fails to comply with his agreement, that does not itself constitute a crime but he is liable to be brought back to the court and deprived of the reduction of sentence which has been allowed or would have been allowed if he had complied with the agreement in full.
New versus old
Following the new regime, rather than the old text regime, may result in a greater discount in sentence. There is no guarantee, however, that providing information will result in a reduction in sentence. It would very much depend on the nature of the information, how it can be used, and whether action can be taken by the police as a result (particularly action that might result in others being prosecuted).
It is important to note that as the formal regime requires full admissions of any criminality on your part, this may result in further charges being brought against you or further offences being taken into consideration on sentence. There is a careful decision to be made here.
How will I know if it has been taken into account?
The law says that if you are given a reduction in your sentence you have to be told that you have been given a lesser sentence and you must also be told what the greater sentence would have been. You will then know exactly how much of a reduction you were given.
How we can help
The decision is not an easy one, nor is the process, because of the potential consequences, which may include having to attend court as a witness, or receiving a longer initial sentence.
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.