Note: Always arrive at 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.
Before a criminal charge goes to trial, the Court will ask the accused how they plead. At this point, the accused person can plead or say “guilty” or “not guilty”. At the first Court appearance, the person does not need to plead guilty or not guilty. Generally, a person will enter a plea of not guilty when they are scheduling a trial date, or a plea of guilty on a date scheduled for a guilty plea and sentencing.
When it is time to take your plea, the clerk will read out the charge against the accused, and then will ask the accused “how do you plead?”. An accused can reserve or not state their plea for several Court appearances, as long as they are taking active steps to move their case along (i.e. working on hiring a lawyer, obtaining disclosure, etc).
Language: If your first language is not English, you have the right to a translator who speaks your language to help you understand what is said in Court. If you require the assistance of a translator, talk to a duty counsel before your matter is called out in court, so that arrangements can be made. It is important that you understand exactly what is happening with your matter.
If an accused person pleads guilty:
Note: Before pleading guilty, it is recommended that the accused person request “disclosure” from the Crown Prosecutor’s office. A disclosure package contains the potential evidence that could be called at trial, including the evidence that the Crown can rely on to try to prove its case against the accused. This would include police notes and reports about the case, any statements provided to police by the accused and other witnesses, and photographs and video evidence. The accused is entitled to, and should, know the Crown’s case against them before they give up their right to a trial by pleading guilty. The disclosure package will help to know the evidence and determine whether the Crown could prove the charges at a trial.
If an accused pleads guilty, the Judge will confirm the following before accepting the guilty plea:
If an accused person pleads not guilty, a trial date or a preliminary inquiry date will be set. This date usually ranges from 2 to 6 months or more, from the date the accused enters their plea.
Note: An accused person can change their plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” after the trial date or preliminary inquiry date has been set. The accused must notify the Crown prosecutor and ask to have the matter brought forward in docket Court. A date for entering the guilty plea and determining sentencing will then be set.
Sometimes, the Crown will agree to “divert” the charges from the regular criminal justice system. Meaning they will be dealt with without entering a guilty or not guilty plea.
Note: Before pleading guilty, it is recommended that the accused should speak with a duty counsel to see whether any alternative measure discussed above is available to the accused.
After a person pleads guilty or is found guilty of a criminal offence, they are given a punishment or sentence. The sentence can be any or a combination of the following:
(You may wish to listen to the Dial-A-Law topic on Criminal Sentences for more information)
Procedure: The sentence is given to the person at a “sentencing hearing”. At the sentencing hearing:
After sentencing, the person will be ordered to pay a victim surcharge. The surcharge will be 30% of any fine imposed on sentence, or where no fine is imposed, $100 per charge where the offences were prosecuted by summary conviction, and $200 per charge where the offence is punishable by indictment.
An accused person can ask the judge to not order the victim fine surcharge, or to reduce the amount, on the basis that it would cause “undue hardship” as financial circumstances of the accused makes it difficult for them. Financial hardship could be from homelessness, unemployment, or support of dependents.
An accused person can also ask the judge not to order the victim fine surcharge, or to reduce the amount, on the basis that the surcharge would be disproportionate to the offence or to the accused’s degree of responsibility.
Note: This surcharge must be paid and cannot be “worked off”.