What is a guilty plea?
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If you have been charged with a criminal offence in Canada, you may decide you want to plead guilty to that offence. This is a choice that every accused person decide to make on their own, and it is not mandatory that a person plead guilty even if they committed the offence.
Before deciding to plead guilty, it is important to review the evidence that the prosecution has against you. If you have hired a criminal defence lawyer, then that lawyer will review the evidence (called disclosure) and provide you with legal advice based upon that review. The disclosure is the information package that will be provided to the accused, or the defence lawyer, and it contains all the evidence the police gathered as part of their investigation. Once that review has been completed, you may wish that you want to resolve your matter by way of a guilty plea. However, it is important to consider hiring a criminal defence lawyer if you have not already done so because your file may be resolvable without you having to plead guilty. This is something that a criminal defence lawyer would review with the client after reviewing disclosure.
Once it is determined that you are not eligible to resolve the matter without a guilty plea, then a date is set for your guilty plea.
At the date set for your guilty plea, the court will confirm through your criminal defence lawyer if you have one, or with you directly the following:
- Are you making your plea voluntarily?
- Do you understand that by pleading guilty, you are admitting to the offence?
- Do you understand the consequences of the guilty plea (that you will have a conviction entered and be sentenced by the judge)?
- Do you understand that the judge does not have to follow the sentence that the prosecutor and the defence lawyer have recommended if they are jointly recommending one?
Once those questions have been answered and confirmed by you, and the prosecutor has read the facts and you have admitted to them, then the court will accept the guilty plea. If you do not admit the facts, then you cannot plead guilty. If you admit the facts, then the judge will find you guilty of the offence.
After a guilty plea, the prosecutor will tell the judge what they think you should be sentenced to. This may happen on the same date as the guilty plea or on a different date if the prosecutor or the defence request more information by way of a pre-sentence report or other reports.
In serious criminal cases, a pre-sentence report is typically requested. These reports are prepared by probation officers after they have interviewed the offender, their family, employers, friends, police, correctional officers, and others who are aware of the condition of the person. The focus of these reports is to provide information to help the judge determine the appropriate sentence, whether it be community based, jail or otherwise. Once the prosecutor makes submissions then the defence lawyer will make submissions as to what sentence they think is appropriate. After submissions are completed, the judge will decide as to what you will be sentenced to.