Criminal Law – Pleading Guilty to Your Charges
Navigating the criminal justice system can be confusing and terrifying for individuals facing charges for offenses. However, the consequences that flow from sentences imposed can be significant; thus, all decisions made by the accused throughout the legal process should be as informed as possible. When charged, an accused can either plead guilty, plead not guilty, or agree to complete a diversion program or alternative measures, if it is agreed to by the Crown.
Where the accused pleads guilty, they will likely be convicted or sentenced. It goes without saying, but you should not plead guilty if you did not commit the crime you have been charged with, nor should you plead guilty until you have thought about all your options. You should only plead guilty where you admit that you committed the crime and you understand the full consequences of a guilty plea. When you plead guilty, you are admitting that you did commit an offence, and you had a guilty state of mind when you did so. You are also surrendering the right to go to trial and having the Crown prove the charges you face beyond a reasonable doubt. If, for some reason, the judge does not believe you understand the consequences of pleading guilty, they can refuse your guilty plea and your case will be adjourned so that you may speak to your lawyer or duty counsel.
If you plead not guilty, you will likely be taken to trial, where you will only be sentenced if you are found guilty.
The first step in dealing with guilty pleas is to seek legal advice. You should be aware of:
- the Crown’s case against you;
- any defenses available to you;
- any violations of Charter rights that may have occurred during the arrest and investigation; and
- the consequences of accepting a guilty plea (i.e. getting a criminal record; how long you may be in prison for; and any other suspensions that you face)
A lawyer will be able to explain the process to you, as well as layout all your options. They can also try to negotiate the best possible deal for your case. You may hire a paralegal instead if you have been charged with a summary offense with a maximum sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment, a $5000 fine, or both.
If you are unable to afford a lawyer or paralegal, contact Legal Aid Ontario to find out the services available to you, as you may qualify for a Legal Aid certificate. You can also seek advice from duty counsel at the local courthouse, who can provide you with information on the outcomes and consequences of pleading guilty; help review your disclosure and your case; and assist you in assessing if you can qualify for Legal Aid.
If you are considering pleading guilty, speak to your lawyer or duty counsel about the types of sentences you may get, and if there are perhaps other means of resolving your case. You may ask about diversion, which is available for non-serious offenses, or if you have mental health issues that may affect your sentencing.
Choosing to Plead Guilty
If you choose to plead guilty, you must go through a plea inquiry, which will ensure that you understand what the pleading guilty entails, and your rights if you plead not guilty. You will be asked whether:
– you have been pressured or forced by anyone to plead guilty
– you agree that you have committed the crime you are pleading guilty to
– you understand that you are surrendering your right to trial
– you understand that you will be sentenced and may get a criminal record
– you understand that you may receive a different sentence than that suggested by your lawyer or the Crown
If you honestly agree to all of the above, the court clerk will then read out your charges, and will ask you how you wish to plead – if you are admitting guilt, you must clearly verbally state “guilty”. They will also read out a synopsis (a summary of facts), to which you must confirm that they are substantially correct. If your guilty plea is then accepted, the judge will find you guilty. At the sentencing hearing, your lawyer and the Crown will be able to suggest a sentence, but the judge is not bound to these suggestions. They will make their own decision based on what is appropriate or reasonable.
If you are being charged with a criminal offense or are facing the option of a guilty plea and require assistance or legal advice on whether you should proceed, please do not hesitate to contact us, and our specialist Criminal Lawyers can discuss your matter in more detail over a free consultation. You can reach our office at 905-366-0202 or contact us through our website here.