Guilty Pleas

Guilty Pleas

Being charged with a criminal offence, no matter how big or small, is a serious matter. A criminal record can pose significant hurdles in terms of employment and other opportunities, not to mention the impact it can have on your personal life. Before you decide to plead guilty to a criminal offence, it is important to be informed of and understand your legal rights and the options available to you.

You should start by reading Disclosure. Disclosure describes the allegations and the evidence that the Crown Prosecutor (“Crown”) will rely on to prosecute you. It may contain witness statements, video, pictures and other documents. Disclosure can be obtained from the Crown upon request. Additionally, the crown is obligated to provide full Disclosure to you.

After reviewing your Disclosure, even if you agree with everything in it, you should still consult a criminal lawyer before you decide to plead guilty (or not guilty). Your lawyer will be able to give you legal advice about possible defences available to you and point out any difficulties the Crown may have in proving its case against you. A criminal lawyer can also advise you on the sentence you will likely face if you plead guilty.

To obtain a conviction, the Crown has to prove all the elements that make up a criminal offence, including the underlying criminal act(s) and criminal intent, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, there are a few instances where you (the accused) will need to persuade a judge on “a balance of probabilities.”

What it means when you plead guilty

Essentially, when you plead guilty you are admitting that your physical acts (or omissions) amounted to a criminal offence and that you had the requisite criminal intent to commit the offence.

You cannot plead guilty just because “you want your case to be over.” A judge does not necessarily have to accept your guilty plea. Before accepting a guilty plea, a judge must be satisfied that:

  1. Your guilty plea is voluntary;
  2. You understand that you are admitting to the facts that make up the criminal offence;
  3. You understand the consequences and are giving up your right to have a trial; and
  4. You understand that the judge is not bound to follow the sentence the Crown is recommending.

Once the judge is satisfied of the above, (s)he will enter a “finding of guilt” against you. This will result in a Criminal record against you. Remember that once you plead guilty, you cannot later say you did not mean to plead guilty unless there are exceptional circumstances.

After the trial judge makes a finding of guilt against you, the judge will sentence you. Except for certain criminal offences that have mandatory minimum sentences attached to them, the trial judge has discretion to impose a just and appropriate sentence. This discretion will depend on the principles of sentencing along with a number of aggravating and mitigating factors specific to your case.

It is important to seek the advice of a criminal lawyer so that you are informed of what these factors are.  A criminal lawyer will be well prepared to advocate for a reasonable sentence based on the principles of sentencing and any mitigating factors applicable to your case.

The decision to plead guilty is yours, and yours alone. It should not be taken lightly no matter what you have been charged with. A criminal record may follow you around and negatively impact you for the rest of your life. It is important to seek the advice and representation of a competent criminal lawyer to be informed of your legal rights, options and available defences before you make the decision to plead guilty to a criminal offence.

DISCLAIMER: This article is not legal advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Although effort has been made to ensure the information is accurate and up to date, readers should verify the information before relying or acting upon it.