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Appeal after a Guilty Plea?

View profile for Correna Platt
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Lawyers for Sgt Danny Nightingale, the SAS soldier convicted of possession of a pistol and live ammunition at a court martial earlier this month, have confirmed an appeal has been launched against his conviction.

The issue of the sentence handed down to Sgt Nightingale, one of 18 months detention in a military prison, will be heard by the Court Martial Court of Appeal on 29th November 2012.  It is understood no date has yet been set for the review of the conviction.

Nightingale’s supporters have indicated that although the illegal items (originally given to him by Iraqi soldiers) were found at his Hereford accommodation he had not packed them himself when he returned to Britain and had suffered a brain injury during a charity race in the Amazon Basin which had affected his memory.  Nightingale’s supporters say that he only pleaded guilty in order to avoid the five years detention he could have faced after a trial.

This case highlights the difficulties faced by defendants who plead guilty to offences they later say they did not commit.  This, they say, can be for a wide range of reasons, other than their guilt to the offence charged.  Such cases highlight the vital importance of clear and considered legal advice throughout the proceedings.

Contrary to popular opinion an appeal against a conviction where a guilty plea has been entered can be the subject of an appeal, but in very specific circumstances.

Grounds can be based on the fact that the plea of guilty was not voluntary, was pleaded on the basis of an erroneous ruling of the trial judge or on fresh evidence which has come to light which undermines the safety of the conviction.

If the defendant is denied the choice of a voluntary plea then any guilty plea will be a nullity and a fresh trial will be ordered or the matter simply set aside - the Court of appeal in those circumstances can not quash a conviction.

However, if a reluctant plea has been entered, even where this is as a result of counsel’s strong advice, this does not automatically result in a successful application to set aside the guilty plea, as it is a barrister’s duty to advise their client as to the strengths of the prosecution case against them.  If the advice given however is misleading an application can be made.

By solicitor, Alison Marriott  

  • If you have been convicted of an offence and wish to obtain advice in respect of an appeal, please contact our Appeals team.