What factors do judges consider in sentencing?

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What factors do judges consider in sentencing?

When assessing appropriate sentencing in Canada, judges refer to guidelines set out in the Criminal Code of Canada and the precedents set by prior court rulings. The importance of each factor can differ based on the particulars of each case. However, some universally considered factors include:


If you have a prior criminal record, it can impact the sentence you receive. This is especially true if you have a recent criminal record for similar offences. If that is the case, judges will have to consider what is called the “jump principle which means they would consider sentencing you to something more than the previous sentence you received. However, there are ways you can reduce the impact of your prior criminal record. This is where an experienced criminal defence lawyer can help. Some of the things that the court will consider will be whether you have taken some counselling or treatment after the offence date but before the sentencing, for example. 

The reason the court will consider a prior criminal record is because the court has to consider your past behaviour as it relates to the chance further offences will be committed.

If you have a gap in your record between the date of the last conviction and the date of the new offence, then the impact your prior criminal record will have on the sentencing judge may be reduced. Also, if the offences that you have on your record are unrelated to the offence you are being sentenced on, then they may have less of an impact on your current matter. 

Having a prior criminal record isn’t the only factor the court will consider when sentencing an offender, and sometimes it plays far less of a role in the judge’s decision as to what the ultimate sentence will be, but it can impact the judge’s decision as to the appropriate sentence an offender will receive.


Yes. The court will always assess an offender’s personal circumstances when crafting an appropriate sentence for the criminal act. For example, the court will consider your age, cultural background, financial status, ties to the community, any addictions issues. Certainly. Judges assess various personal elements during sentencing. A person’s age can reduce the sentence where the offender is young and without a prior criminal record. The court will also consider whether or not an offender is a contributing member of society, taking into account employment and volunteering. 

Cultural and economic backgrounds are also considered, recognizing how these can influence behavior. In deciding what an appropriate sentence is, the judge may order that a pre-sentence report be written by a probation officer. The report is written about all aspects of an offender’s personal background. 


Serious offences call for more serious sentences. For example, a sentence for a stabbing where the victim ended up with long term injuries would necessarily be harsher than for an assault involving a slap on the cheek. The seriousness of the crime is always a sentencing consideration. This is because the more harm inflicted must necessarily result in a stiffer sentence so that people are deterred from committing similar offences.

That doesn’t mean that you will always receive a harsh sentence for a serious crime, however. Working with an experienced criminal defence lawyer will help you reduce or mitigate the sentence you receive.


When a person pleads guilty to an offence it is seen by the court as a show of remorse and will reduce the sentence accordingly. This is because when a person pleads guilty, they are often sparing a victim from the necessity of testifying and sparing the court and the prosecutor the resources to do so.

Essentially, a guilty plea is confirmation that you are sorry for committing the crime and the court will necessarily sentence you to a lower sentence than if you proceed to trial and are convicted.  


The Canadian sentencing process is complicated. Judges have to consider fairness and justice in sentencing an offender. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Judges will the entirety of the situation, taking into account the particulars of the crime, the individual's background, and the broader societal context. Every verdict handed down is more than just a consequence for an action; it carries the hopes of guiding an individual back into society. 

The judge, in this intricate process, has a critical task. They must weave together various elements to ensure the outcome resonates with the principles of justice, aligns with societal expectations, and remains considerate of individual circumstances. At the heart of this intricate process lies a singular objective: to craft a verdict that balances individual responsibility with societal well-being, ensuring that the scales of justice are balanced for everyone involved.