A plea of guilty is an acceptance of guilt to the offences charged. It is a choice made by the defendant to accept responsibility for their actions and be dealt with according to law.

A plea of guilty is entered in the exercise of a free choice, in the person’s own interests, by a person of apparently sound mind and without inducement to enter that plea.  After a plea of guilty, a person is sentenced to a penalty that reflects all of the circumstances of the offending and the person’s personal antecedents.

If a defendant later says that the plea of guilty that they entered was not correct, an appeal may be brought within the relevant time limitation. However, any appeal against conviction must overcome the large obstacle that the defendant’s conviction followed their plea of guilty.

The relevant principles to be applied to an appeal against conviction following a plea of guilty are well settled by case law. In the 2011 decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal in R v Dobie, the Court approved what the High Court had said in 1995 in the decision of Meissner v the Queen. In relation to the plea of guilty, it was said that


“…there is no miscarriage of justice if a Court acts on a plea of guilty entered in open court by a person who is of full age and apparently sound mind and understanding where the plea is entered in the exercise of a free choice in the interests of the person entering the plea, even if that person is not in truth guilty of the offence. It is also established that an application subsequently to withdraw a plea of guilty should be approached with considerable caution. Furthermore, a plea of guilty is an admission of all of the elements of the offence and that all available defences have been negatived. Nevertheless, it may be open to the Court to find a miscarriage of justice which permits the withdrawal of a plea of guilty and the setting aside of a conviction entered on that plea if, on the facts put forward as constituting the facts of the offence with reference to which the person was charged and sentenced, the person could not in law have been convicted of that offence.”

It is not easy for a defendant to persuade a Court to set aside a conviction based on a plea of guilty.  As the Court in Borsa v The Queen confirmed, “there must be a strong case and exceptional circumstances.” It is recognised that the circumstances in which the conviction will amount to a miscarriage of justice can never be exhaustively identified but said that there are three well-recognised circumstances in which a plea of guilty will be set aside:

  • Firstly, when the applicant did not understand the nature of the charge or did not intend to admit guilt;
  • Secondly, if, upon the admitted facts, the applicant could not in law have been guilty of the offence;
  • Thirdly, where the guilty plea was obtained by improper inducement, fraud or intimidation and the like.


Recently, in the case of R v DBY [2022] QCA 20, the Court had occasion to again consider these principles and whether the appellant in that case had experienced a miscarriage of justice having regard to her conviction by way of her plea of guilty. In that case there was some evidence that the applicant had been unsound at the time of committing the first offence in the mental health court but the matter could not be resolved in the mental health court and those issues were not pursued by the defendant in the criminal proceedings.  There was conflicting expert evidence within the mental health court about whether or not the defendant was of unsound mind at the time of the offending.  As a result of that conflicting evidence, the matter was unable to be resolved through the mental health Court.  However, those issues were not pursued when the matter was returned to the ordinary criminal stream of the Court.  At all times when the Appellant was being assessed in that matter she was fit to stand trial and make decisions about the conduct of her matter. Moreover, the appellant’s decision to plead guilty involved a rational forensic choice on her part taken no doubt on the advice of her counsel.  The Court went on to explain that while the appellant may regret that decision, no miscarriage of justice had been demonstrated.


This case is a reminder of the importance of making an informed decision about whether or not to enter a plea of guilty.  Regret after the fact is not enough to overturn a conviction after a plea of guilty entered voluntarily and rationally at the time of entering the plea.


Being charged with a criminal offence is a serious matter that can have consequences not only for a person’s liberty but for their future employment and social and emotional wellbeing.  The decision to plead guilty to offending is an important one and as this article demonstrates, a defendant is unable to resile from their plea of guilty except in circumstances which are exceptional.