While criminal lawyers spend countless hours analyzing particulars, preparing for, and conducting trials with the goal of impeaching witnesses and excluding incriminating evidence, it should be noted that the vast majority – perhaps 90% of criminal cases – are resolved by way of a guilty plea. Obviously, accused persons who have been convicted must also prepare for sentencing. As experienced, skilled defence lawyers, our goal is to obtain the most lenient sentence for our clients that the law will allow.
Range of Available Sentences
No Criminal Record
There are police investigations that result in outcomes that fall short of a conviction, so there is technically no sentence ever imposed. Clearly, these results are the best possible outcome for a person suspected of committing a crime. These outcomes include:
- No charge being approved because Crown considers that there is insufficient evidence that would lead to a conviction. Alternatively, Crown may elect to not approve a charge because, in the circumstances, there is no public interest in proceeding with the prosecution.
- Charges that are resolved through Alternative Measures. The alternative measures program is a system by which first time offenders who are prepared to take responsibility for their actions can avoid a criminal prosecution by admitting the offence in an informal way and agreeing to perform restorative justice requirements such as apologies and community work service.
- Charges that are resolved by way of a Peace Bond – a recognizance under s. 810 of the Criminal Code. When a person enters into a Peace Bond, they are not convicted of a criminal offence. Rather, they are placed under a court order for up to 12 months to abide by certain conditions, typically conditions that prevent contact with the complainant or other witnesses to an allegation.
Canadian law permits a court that has found an accused guilty, or who has pleaded guilty, to be “discharged” either on conditions or absolutely. A discharge will be granted only where the court is able to conclude that in the circumstances of the offence and of the offender, that it is in both the best interests of the accused and the community for a discharge to be granted rather than a conviction to be entered. A discharge is available for many offences, but is generally not available for serious offences that involve violence, or where the Criminal Code provides for minimum mandatory sentences.
The effect of an Absolute Discharge is that the accused is able to leave the court with absolutely no further obligations or conditions. The Criminal Records Act provides that the record of an absolute discharge may not be disclosed to anyone after twelve months have elapsed.
The effect of a Conditional Discharge is somewhat different. The court may place the discharged person on a probation order, on various conditions, for up to three years. Conditions may include such things as “no contact,” no weapons, or counselling conditions. The Criminal Records Act provides that the record of a conditional discharge may not be disclosed to anyone after three years have elapsed.
Suspended Sentence and Probation
The court may suspend the passing of sentence and place the accused on probation for any offence that does not carry a mandatory minimum sentence. A probation order may contain such “reasonable conditions” as the court considers desirable. For example, it may require the accused to report regularly to a probation officer; to make efforts to seek and obtain employment or education, refrain from the use of alcohol, cannabis, non-prescription drugs, or to take counselling as directed. It is a separate chargeable offence if the offender breaches the probation order. When the court suspends sentence, and places the offender on probation, the offender obtains a criminal conviction record for the offence. The record is permanent, but the offender may apply for a pardon or record suspension if they obtain no further convictions and at least 5 years elapse in the case of summary convictions and 10 years elapse in the case of indictable convictions.