Pleading Guilty to a Criminal Charge


The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide only general information on legal issues within the province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation. The purpose is to make you aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

This topic discusses the effects of pleading guilty to a criminal offence. You should get legal advice from a lawyer before you plead guilty to a criminal charge. You may have a defense that you are not aware of and a lawyer could point that out to you.

The Crown Prosecutor will read the charge to the Court and the Judge will ask how you plead. Speak up so that the Judge can hear you. On your first Court appearance, you do not need to enter a plea; that is to plead guilty or not guilty. You can reserve your plea until your second and sometimes third Court appearance.

If you plead not guilty, a trial date or a preliminary inquiry date will be set. This date is usually set within 1 to 2 months of your plea. Speak to the Crown prosecutor at least 1 week before you set a date for a trial or a preliminary inquiry so that they can notify the witnesses of the days they must come to Court. If you decide to plead guilty after you have a trial date or preliminary inquiry date set, notify the Crown prosecutor and ask to have your matter brought forward in docket Court to set a date for entering the guilty plea and sentencing.

If you plead guilty at your first Court appearance, the Judge may sentence you immediately or adjourn the sentencing to a later date. Sometimes, the Judge may order a pre-Sentence Report. A Pre-sentence report will provide information to the Court on your age, level of maturity, character, criminal record, behavior, attitude and willingness to make amends, and other information that the Court may require about you. This report is prepared by a probation officer. You may object to statements of fact in the Pre-Sentence Report if you feel they are inaccurate.

When you are being sentenced, the Judge will ask you to confirm the details of the offence read by the Crown Prosecutor. Tell the Judge what details you believe to be correct. It is not enough that you committed the crime you were charged with, the Judge must be satisfied as to how it was committed. If the Judge accepts your guilty plea, the Court will allow you to speak-to-sentence.

Speak-to-sentence means that you have an opportunity to tell the Court about your particular circumstances. You may want to tell the Court how old you are, where you live, how long you have lived there, your education, whether you are married and have children, your community involvement, how you feel about the offence, where you work, and how much money you earn. Tell the Judge anything that you feel is important for them to consider in handing you your sentence.

The Crown Prosecutor will then tell the Judge about your criminal record if you have one. They may also emphasis the seriousness of your offence and ask the Judge to impose a specific penalty such as a fine, a jail sentence, probation or restitution. Restitution is the repayment to your victims for their loss resulting from your crime. You may wish to listen to Dial-A-Law topic 335 Criminal Sentences.

The Judge will consider your submissions, those of the Crown Prosecutor and any aggravating or mitigating factors. Aggravating factors are those that may increase your sentence and mitigating factors may reduce your sentence. Factors include the seriousness of the offence, the gravity of the offence, the victim’s impact statement and your attitude. If the Court has a Pre-Sentence Report that will also be considered. If you entered an early guilty plea that is considered a mitigating factor because as it indicates your remorse and saves costs for witnesses and Court resources.

After considering all factors of the case, the Judge may impose the sentence suggested by the Crown Prosecutor or impose other penalties. You may also be ordered to pay a victim surcharge regardless of your sentence imposed. This surcharge must be paid – you cannot work it off.

Always come to Court dressed appropriately. You want to show that your appearance and manners are respectful. Be well groomed, and wear clean clothes. Speak politely to the members of the Court, the Judge, the Crown Prosecutor, and anyone else involved in your matter.