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Pleading guilty or not guilty

Man being put in handcuffs.
Photo: iStock

You’ve been charged with a criminal offence and your court date is nearing. Now what?

You are going to have to sit down with your lawyer and figure out how you’re going to plead. If you can’t afford a lawyer, be advised there are duty counsels at the court. These are lawyers who can assist you – but only temporarily and only for a limited capacity. However, there usually are provincial legal aid bodies that provide legal services to those who cannot afford a lawyer – if you qualify.

Once you have a lawyer – or if you chose to self-represent – you really only have two choices: guilty or not guilty.

You have to enter the plea at the beginning of your trial, so there is no getting around it.

So, how do I plead?

You will meet the prosecutor (Crown Counsel) at your first appearance before the court. Before you decide on how to plead, you should ask the prosecutor for these things:

  1. The initial sentencing position – this will let you know what kind of sentence the Crown is looking at for you, should you plead guilty. The best case scenario is for you to have a lawyer to go over this position report.
  2. The particulars – this is a compilation of written reports from police officers and witnesses that will give you an idea what some of the evidence against you contains.

If you have a lawyer, then he or she should ask for these items in order to review them with you to make a decision on how to plead.

Pleading guilty

If you decided to plead guilty – hopefully after you have consulted with a lawyer – then you will have to appear for sentencing.

If you worked out a plea deal with the Crown in exchange for a guilty plea, you will still have to show up for court.

Be aware that if you plead guilty, you will have criminal record, even if you don’t end up going to jail. The only exception to is if the judge decides to give you a discharge when you plead guilty. There are two types:

  • Conditional discharge – you are only given a discharge if and when you fulfill certain conditions; and
  • Absolute discharge – the case is discharged with no conditions placed on you.

It will also take some time for you criminal record to disappear, it’s not instantaneous.

However, if you have been given a jail sentence, then you will be remanded into custody, either right away or the court will order you to show up to serve your sentence on a particular day.

Pleading not guilty

If you plead not guilty you will have to go through a trial. In fact, once you plead not guilty, a preliminary hearing or a trial date is set.

Trials can be quite lengthy, and you will likely appear before the court at least once or twice more.

You may have a preliminary hearing where the judge determines whether there is enough evidence against you. If not, your case is dismissed.

If at the preliminary hearing results are that there is enough evidence to try you in court, then a court date is set. It usually takes months until your case is heard.

During the trial, the prosecution has to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you are found guilty, then as already said, you will be sentenced and have a criminal record, unless the judge gives you a discharge.

If you are found not guilty, you will be free to go.

Read More:

Department of Justice

Pleading Guilty to a Criminal Charge