Calgary Legal Guidance

Criminal Sentences

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 various sentences that may be imposed on an adult by the Court after a guilty plea has been made.

Alternative Measures

Alternative Measures program is provided by the Alberta Correctional Services and is available to first time (and occasionally) second time adult offenders. It can be made available to youth offenders in certain circumstances. You have a right to counsel before you consent to participate in the program. The Crown Prosecutor must agree that your participation in the program is appropriate. It is the Prosecutor’s final decision on whether you are eligible for the program. In order for the prosecutor to consider you for an alternative measures program you must take responsibility for the offence you are charged with. You cannot be regarded as a threat to society. The needs of the victim will also be taken into consideration.

If you are approved you will be referred to Community Corrections where you will be required to sign an agreement detailing certain obligations that you must complete before you return to court. The conditions may include providing a donation to a charity, making restitution to the victims or engaging in some other form of community service.

If you complete your obligations within the required time, the charges will be withdrawn on your next Court appearance and you will not obtain a criminal record. However, if you do not complete your obligations, the Crown Prosecutor will continue with the prosecution of the charges against you.

Conditional Discharge or Absolute Discharge

Where an accused is convicted of an offence, a discharge may be granted in some situations. Offenders who have committed crimes that wield no minimum sentence or that do not exceed a fourteen year imprisonment penalty may be eligible for a conditional or absolute discharge. In deciding whether to grant a discharge, a judge will often measure whether such a sentence would serve the best interest of the offender and the public interest.

Receiving a discharge will not result in a conviction on your criminal record. However, courts and police do keep records of the discharge. If you are granted an absolute discharge it will take effect immediately. A conditional discharge by contrast requires that offenders be placed on probation for a specified period of time in which they must follow certain conditions and restrictions before the discharge becomes absolute. Failing to adhere to these conditions during the probationary period will cause you to be convicted of the original offence and receive a sentence. If all conditions are successfully met the conditional sentence will be completely purged (removed) from all records after a three year period; an absolute discharge is removed from all records after a year.


This form of punishment requires you to pay the victim for damages done to their property or other personal injury losses such as income or medical bills. It is targeted towards promoting responsibility in offenders and acknowledging the harm done towards the victim and community. Restitution may be imposed as a condition of probation or as a separate Order. If Restitution is imposed as a separate Order, it may be filed as a civil judgment in the civil Court and become a judgment that can be collected on section 718 (e) of the criminal code. If a victim wishes to apply for restitution they may do this by filling out an application at a police or victims’ service unit. Restitution will only apply to costs that can be quickly and easily determined – a victim will not be awarded costs for emotional or psychological suffering.


Offenders who commit offences which wield (exercise) no minimum sentence may be fined for their transgressions (wrongdoings). Those convicted of a summary offence (i.e. those offences which are of a less serious nature) may not be fined more than $2,000 dollars. There is no limit on the size of the fine for those guilty of an indictable offence (crimes of a more serious nature). The Judge will specify how and when the fine is to be paid. Those who are interested in participating in a Fine Option Program should inform Probation authorities. Fine Option Programs enable offenders to work off their respective fines by engaging in community work. Examples include cleaning up parks, shoveling snow or volunteering in a homeless shelter, elderly home or hospital. Participants are compensated at an hourly minimum wage salary for their efforts.

If you are incapable of paying off your fines by the date stipulated by the Judge you must contact the Provincial Court and book a Court date so that you can ask the Judge who sentenced you for more time to pay or work off your fine. Do ensure that you contact the Court prior to the Court determined dead line. It is highly recommended that you start to make payments as soon as possible and on a consistent basis since a Judge will be far more inclined to give you more time to pay off your fine if they see that some effort has been made on your part. Failure to pay or work off your fines may result in a prison sentence. The amount of the fine paid or worked off will determine the amount of jail time prescribed to the offender.

You must pay a 15% victim fine surcharge on all fines, which will go towards compensating victims of crimes. Those who are convicted of offences that do not require payable fines must also pay a victim surcharge; if you are convicted of a summary offence the required payment is $50 while those convicted of an indictable offence will pay a $100 surcharge. If you do not have a payable fine, you will be provided with a date as to when the surcharge is due. In the cases of fines, the surcharge must be paid by the same due date as the fine. The surcharge cannot be worked off through a Fine Option Program. If you feel that you cannot pay the surcharge, explain to the Judge giving reasons as to why it is a hardship for you to pay it.


Individuals convicted of offences may be given a Probation Order. Probation Orders may be imposed on their own or in combination with a fine, imprisonment sentence not exceeding two years in length or a (conditional) discharge. If both a fine and imprisonment sentence has been imposed a probation sentence cannot be attached. In circumstances where the Probation Order is granted on its own, the Order will serve to suspend the sentence imposed by the Judge by imposing a set of conditions that must be adhered to by the offender once released into the community. In considering whether you are eligible for probation the sentencing Judge will factor in your age, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission. You will not be eligible for probation if you have committed an offence which has a minimum sentence laid out in the Criminal Code. The probationary period cannot surpass three years in length. If the probation period is successfully completed and there are no breaches of the imposed conditions or restrictions, you will be discharged. If the conditions or restrictions are breached or another offence is committed, the original sentence will be enforced along with any new sentence necessary in the circumstances. A breach of probation can warrant a maximum of two years in prison.

The conditions and restrictions imposed on your behavior while on probation include the following:

  • You must always keep the peace and be of good behavior.
  • Appear before the Court or your probation officer when required to do so.
  • Include all the musts and then state; other possible conditions may also include;
  • Advise your probation officer or the Court of any change in your name and address or employment.

Other conditions of probation may include a nightly curfew and drug or alcohol counseling (treatment program). You may be restricted from certain areas of the city or town. You may also be prohibited from possessing firearms or weapons during your probation.

Conditional Sentence

A conditional sentence of imprisonment means that the accused may serve time in the community under strict rules. This is a type of house arrest, and if the rules are broken, or there is another offence committed during the term of the conditional sentence, the accused is sent to jail for the remainder of the term. Only those who commit offences which require no minimum sentence may be eligible for a conditional sentence. The interests of the community, victims and offender will also be taken into consideration. Much like probation, a conditional sentence has a series of mandatory conditions that must be successfully adhered to. These include but are not limited to the following;

  • Keep the peace and be of good behavior
  • Stay within the jurisdiction of the court unless given permission to do otherwise
  • Appear before court when requested to do so.

Conditional Sentences may also attach other restrictions including completing a drug or alcohol treatment plan, performing hours of community service and so forth. Failure to adhere to any imposed condition(s) will result in a breach of probation and an imprisonment sentence.

Intermittent Sentence

If you have been given a jail sentence of 90 days or less, the Court may order you to serve your sentence intermittently. In other words, offenders will be designated by the Court to serve only certain days, such as weekends, in prison while remaining on probation for the remainder of the period. Failure to comply with your probation conditions and restrictions may result in the probation being revoked. An outright refusal to comply with probationary conditions may result in a charge with breach of a Probation Order.

One day in Jail

The sentence of 1 day in custody is served when you appear in Court. You are not required to actually sit in jail for a day.


A prison term under 2 years is served at a provincial reformatory. Those who have been granted a two year imprisonment sentence may be eligible for parole after serving 6 months of their sentence if they exemplify good behavior. As a paroled offender, you will be required to serve the remainder of your sentence within the community where you will be required to follow a set of strict restrictions. If you fail to comply with these restrictions, you will likely be sent back to prison. Others offenders facing prison sentences of 2 years or less may not be placed on parole until they have served 2/3s of their jail term. In the most serious of cases, you will be required to serve the entire sentence in a reformatory.

A prison term over 2 years is served at a federal penitentiary. Inmates will either be paroled after serving 1/3 or 2/3s of their sentence. Offenders who have been deemed dangerous or long term offenders will likely spend the rest of their days in confinement.

Dial‑A‑Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.

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