A Newton hearing is an unusual form of court trial found in British law. Taking both name and precedent from a landmark 1982 case, R v Newton, a Newton hearing is sometimes requested or awarded in the event that the defendant pleads guilty but disputes the evidence for the crime. If the defense wants to be sentenced on a factual basis that significantly differs from what the prosecution alleges, a judge may call for a Newton hearing.
The case that originated this practice R v Newton, involved a peculiar he-said, she-said trial over a sexual act that would soon be decriminalized in most of the world. Mr. Newton, the defendant, was accused of "buggery," also called sodomy, with an adult woman. Newton claimed that he was guilty of the act, but insisted that it was consensual between partners. Since the issue of consensus could greatly affect the sentencing, the judge ordered a special hearing in which only the judge, and not a jury, would try to reconcile the facts to determine sentencing.
There are several rules of procedure that guide a Newton hearing. First, the hearing almost always results after a defendant has pled guilty. If a defendant pleads not guilty, the trial will proceed normally and the defendant's counsel can mount a defense of facts. The judge must also determine that the dispute of facts is significant enough to have an impact on sentencing.
Once a Newton hearing is called, both sides have the opportunity to provide evidence. The trial proceeds much as a normal trial would, with the major exception that the judge is acting as a jury for the trial. If there is no specific evidence to present, one or both sides may waive the right to show evidence and instead submit a statement or argument mapping out the case. The judge will review all evidence and statements before coming to a decision on sentencing.
One other criteria for calling a Newton hearing is the manner in which the defense's case contradicts the evidence. The claim cannot simply serve to reduce the charges, such as insisting that a homicide was actually a case of involuntary manslaughter. While the defense can make that case, it is normally done in a regular trial following a “not guilty” plea. Instead, a defense that brings about a Newton trial must clearly contradict the case made by the prosecution on a factual level.