GUILTY PLEAS AND SENTENCING

INTRODUCTION 

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS  

COURT PROCEDURE 

Before Your Court Appearance 

Negotiating With The Crown Prosecutor 

Your Court Appearance 

SPEAK TO SENTENCE 

Character of the Offender

Age and background 

Family circumstances

Education 

Employment

Previous Criminal Record 

Other 

Circumstances Surrounding the Offence 

CONCLUDING THE COURT APPEARANCE 

TYPES OF SENTENCES 

Fine 

Time to Pay 

Fine Options 

Jail Time 

Probation Orders 

Discharges 

Restitution 

Community Service 

Conditional Sentences 

Alternative Measures 

Victim Offender Mediation 

Losing a licence (driver’s, hunting, etc...) 

Victims surcharge on offenders 

PRE-SENTENCE REPORT 

VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT 

FINAL NOTE

REFERRAL NUMBERS  

 

INTRODUCTION

 

When a person decides to enter a guilty plea, there are a number of steps that he can take. He can make a good impression on the judge, he can negotiate with the Crown Prosecutor, and he can speak to a judge before he is sentenced and explain why he should get a less harsh sentence than somebody else. This pamphlet is written to outline the basic steps a person can take before and after making a guilty plea. The pamphlet will also present some different types of sentences that a guilty person may face.   

 

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS

 

First, it is a good idea to make a positive impression on the judge when you are in court. Here are a few ways to do that: 

 

  1. Be on time for Court.

  2. Look respectable and dress neatly.  

    1. A suit and a tie, or dress pants and a blouse or dress shirt. You should never wear a hat, shorts, or a tank-top in Court.

  3. Speak clearly and always stand when you are speaking to a Judge. You should also stand when the Judge is speaking to you.

  4. Always be respectful and courteous towards the Judge and everyone else in court.  

    1. Do not interrupt anyone who is talking. Address the judge as “Your Honour”; or use “Sir” for a male judge and “Ma’am” for a female judge.

  5. If you are waiting for your turn and court is in session, try to be quiet.  

    1. If you need to have a conversation, leave the courtroom.

  6. When entering and leaving the courtroom, it is customary to bow to the Judge even if he or she is not looking in your direction.

 

Not all of these points will have an effect on every Judge, but each action taken may help you make a positive impression on the judge and help you in sentencing.

 

COURT PROCEDURE

 

1. Before Your Court Appearance 

 

  1. If you are unsure of which courtroom you must appear in, or the date and time of your appearance, you should phone the Provincial Court Criminal Clerk (the phone numbers are at the end of this pamphlet). Tell them your name, your birth date, and what you are charged with. They will be able to tell you the date, time, and courtroom you are scheduled to appear in.

  2. Arrive to your courtroom at least fifteen minutes before your Court time. 

  3. Check the docket list (the electronic board posted outside of the courtroom with names and charges) to make sure your name is there and that the charges are correct.  (If your name is missing, go to the Clerk’s counter in the Provincial Court Criminal Division. It is located on the main floor of the courthouse in Edmonton).

  4. If you are appearing in docket court (the courtroom in which you make your first appearance, and reserve your plea, set a trial date, or enter a guilty plea), you should speak to Duty Counsel who is usually located just outside the courtroom.  Duty Counsel is a lawyer who can help people who do not have representation in docket court.  Duty Counsel will help you:

    1. "reserve" your plea so that you can seek further legal advice about your charge(s);

    2. enter a ‘not guilty’ plea and set a trial date; 

    3. speak to the Crown Prosecutor about your charge(s);

    4. enter a guilty plea; or 

    5. do a speak to sentence

It is important to remember that Duty Counsel does not run trials and if your charge is set for trial it is your obligation to find a lawyer (possibly through Legal Aid) or to talk to someone at Student Legal Services about opening a file.

  1. If you choose not to use the help of Duty Counsel or if you are going to court for a trial date rather than a docket appearance, you may want to speak to the Crown Prosecutor before court begins. The Crown Prosecutor usually arrives to the courtroom about fifteen minutes before Court begins and will sit at one of the desks at the front of the courtroom. Tell the Prosecutor who you are and what you are planning on doing (ie. plead guilty, not guilty, reserve your plea, or ask for an adjournment). You can try to negotiate with the Prosecutor at this point as well. 

 

2.  Talking to the Crown Prosecutor 

a. If you plan to plead guilty and you are scheduled to go to trial on your next court date, you should call the Prosecutor as soon as possible to let her know that you want to plead guilty. Telling the Prosecutor that you want to plead guilty before your court date gives the Prosecutor time to cancel witnesses and save everyone inconvenience. Also, if you call the Prosecutor ahead of time, you may get a chance to discuss your case and try to make a deal with the Prosecutor. When you call the Prosecutor’s office in Edmonton you should ask for the Public Assistance Unit and make an appointment with a "Duty Crown" to discuss your file. 

b. If you want to ask for an adjournment (postpone the trial), it is also a good idea to call the Prosecutor ahead of time and find out if the Prosecutor has any objections to postponing your trial. The Prosecutor’s phone numbers are listed at the end of this pamphlet.

c. It is sometimes possible to negotiate with the Prosecutor. If you are charged with more than one offence, you may be able to get the Prosecutor to drop one or more of the charges. This may be done by telling the Prosecutor that you are willing to plead guilty to some of the offences but not all of them. Also, if you are charged with a serious offence, you can tell the Prosecutor that you are willing to plead guilty to a less serious offence, and the Prosecutor may agree to reduce your charge.

 

3.  Your Court Appearance 

a. When the Judge is in the courtroom you should be sitting in the gallery of the courtroom (the benches between the doors and the bar) waiting for the Court Clerk or the Prosecutor to call your name. When your name is called, walk up to the front of the courtroom and state your name to the Judge.

b. If this is your first court appearance, the clerk may read the charge(s) and ask how you want to plead.  If you entered a plea of not guilty at your first appearance and you want to change your plea to guilty at the trial date you must tell the Judge that you want to change your plea to guilty.

c. Once the guilty plea is entered, the Judge may ask you a few questions in order to “canvas section 606 of the Criminal Code”.  The judge simply wants to know if you are pleading guilty voluntarily and that you understand that you are giving up the right to have a trial

d. Next, the Crown Prosecutor will read the particulars (ie. the facts) of the offence.  Listen carefully to the facts as read by the Crown and be sure they are correct.  The Judge will then ask you if you acknowledge the facts as read.  If there is a point that is incorrect tell the Judge your view of the incident.  However, if you are entering a guilty plea, you must acknowledge the substance of the offence (meaning, that you admit that you committed the offence.) If you disagree with a lot of the facts, then you may have to plead not guilty and go to trial.

e. The Crown Prosecutor will also show the Judge a copy of your criminal record if you have one.  The Prosecutor should show you a copy first so that you can make sure that it is your record and that there aren’t any mistakes on it.  If there are any mistakes on the record, tell the Judge immediately.

f. If there is no dispute over the facts or your criminal record, the Judge will ask if you have anything you wish to say on your behalf.  This is where you begin your speak to sentence.

 

SPEAK TO SENTENCE

 

You should prepare what you will say in your speak to sentence ahead of time. There are two objectives when speaking to sentence: First, you want to describe what type of person you are.  The Judge wants to know about your character. Second, you want to describe the circumstances surrounding the offence. The Judge wants to know if there are special circumstances which led to you committing the offence (ie. severe illness, necessity, personal difficulties, etc.) 

 

As a general rule, emphasize on positive things instead of reminding the Judge of the negative ones. But note that if you have spent time in remand for this particular offence, you should let the judge know straightaway. While you want to paint a good picture of yourself, you must always be honest with the Judge

 

The following is a list of things you may want to talk about in your Speak to Sentence:   

 

 

1.  Your Character

  1. Age and background:

    1. Your birth date

    2. Where you were born

    3. Whether you are married, single, divorced, widowed or separated

    4. Any disabilities that you have

    5. Whether you are Aboriginal, or a member of another minority group

 

  1. Family circumstances:

    1. Where your family lives

    2. How many children you have, how old they are, and whether they live with you.  If they don’t live with you, you should explain any financial support you give them and what type of relationship you have with them.  You can also mention anyone else who depends on you for financial support (like an elderly parent or a disabled family member)

    3. Whether you have a good relationship with your family 

    4. your spouse’s occupation, or your parent’s occupation if you are a young adult

 

  1. Education:

    1. How far you went in school (high school, college education, etc.)

    2. Your special skills or trade training (ie. welding, business administration, etc.)

    3. Where you were educated

    4. Any school awards or scholarships you have received.

 

  1. Employment:

    1. Where you are employed, whether your work is full-time or part-time, and how long you have been working there

    2. If you are unemployed, how long you have been out of work and what you have done to look for work

    3. If you have a medical problem that affects your ability to work, you can give the Judge documentation to prove it (ie. doctor’s letter, etc.)

    4. Your monthly income (if you are on social assistance you may want to tell the Judge because he or she may take it into account when sentencing you)

 

  1. Previous Criminal Record

    1. You don’t need to volunteer any information about your criminal record. However, if the Crown Prosecutor mentions your record, you can offer an explanation. 

    2. For example, you can explain that the offences were committed during a rough time in your life, that there were special circumstances surrounding the offence (like shoplifting a $2.00 item), or that you had a problem with drugs or alcohol in the past that contributed to your record.

 

  1. Other

    1. This includes any other personal circumstances that you feel may be relevant, that may make a good impression on the Judge, or that may provide some explanation for your actions.

    2. You may want to mention your involvement in volunteer or community groups.

    3. If you are sorry for the offence, you should tell this to the Judge, and include why you are sorry.

    4. The fact that you have suffered embarrassment, financial loss, or had family problems as a direct result of having been charged with the offence may also assist the Judge in determining to what extent you should be further punished.

    5. If a criminal record will have a negative effect upon your life (ie. it will mean that you will get fired or will not be able to obtain a job), this should be brought to the Judge’s attention.

 

2.  Circumstances Surrounding the Offence 

As a general rule, you should say nothing about the offence unless there are mitigating circumstances that should be brought to the attention of the Judge. If you had a really good reason to commit the offence (i.e. shoplifting to feed your hungry children) or if it was completely out of character for you to commit such an offence, then you should explain your circumstances to the Judge to give him/her an understanding of why you committed the offence. If there is no acceptable reason for why you committed the offence, then you are better off saying nothing. 

 

Concluding the Court Appearance 

 

The Judge will impose a sentence after both you and the Prosecutor have concluded your submissions. You should stand when being sentenced.

 

TYPES OF SENTENCES

 

The types of sentences you can get after pleading guilty or being convicted are different for each offence, and depend a lot on your own particular circumstances. It is difficult to know what sentence you will get before you go to court because it is the Judge who makes this ultimate decision. You may receive one or more of the following sentences for any offence:

 

 

1.  Fine 

A Judge may sentence you with a fine and give you a time period within which you are to pay it. If you cannot pay the fine within the given time period, you may ask for more time to pay or you can opt for the fine options program.  

 

  1. Time to Pay

If the Judge sentences you to pay a fine, you will be told that if you do not pay the fine, you will have to spend some time in jail instead. The Judge will ask you whether you need time to pay the fine. If the Judge does not ask, you should mention it yourself. The Judge will want to know how much time you need to pay the fine. You will need to have a good reason if you want more than three months to pay. If you are granted time to pay you need to pick up your Time to Pay slip from the Provincial Court Criminal Division Clerk’s counter (on the main floor of the courthouse in Edmonton).

 

You can apply for an extension of time to pay if it is impossible for you to pay the fine by the due date. If you have made reasonable efforts to pay the fine, or have paid off some of the fine, you are more likely to get an extension. To obtain an extension you must apply at the Provincial Court Clerk’s Office in the city where you were sentenced before the due date. Do not wait until the day your fine is due to request an extension because it takes time for an application to be approved by a judge. Also, if your application is refused, you will likely need time to get money together to pay the fine.

 

If your fine has not been paid by the expiry date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

 

  1. Fine Options

If you are unemployed or working part-time, you should consider the Fine Options Program. The program allows you to work off your fine. If you are enrolled in the Fine Options Program and making progress towards paying off your fine within the time given by the Judge, you will likely avoid facing arrest for failure to pay your fine within the time prescribed. The address and phone number to the Fine Option Program will be on your Time to Pay slip.

 

2.  Jail Time 

A sentence may include an order to serve jail time. If you think that it is possible that you will be sent to jail, you should make any necessary arrangements before you go to court. For example, you might need to find proper care for your children, pay your rent, or leave your personal belongings in a safe place. If the Judge does order jail time it may be possible to serve your time intermittently (on weekends for example). You cannot serve a sentence intermittently if you did not pay a fine or if you are sentenced to serve more than 90 days. If you want to serve your sentence intermittently you need to explain to the Judge why you need to do so (ex. so that you don’t lose your job or to allow you to continue school, etc.). You should bring documentation as proof to show the Judge.

 

3.  Probation Orders 

Sometimes a Judge will give a sentence that includes a probation order.  A probation order requires that for a specific period of time (often six months or a year) you must meet certain conditions intended to keep you from re-offending.  The conditions might include such things as counselling and drug treatment for substance abuse, community service hours and a requirement that you check in with a probation officer periodically.  If you do not meet the conditions of the probation order you will be charged with another offence called Breach of Probation and you will have to go back to court again.

 

If you receive a period of probation, you should go to the Clerk’s counter and tell them who you are and that you received a period of probation. Wait there to receive a copy of the probation order and then take it to the Adult Probation Office or to wherever the Clerk directs you.  If you do not report to the probation officer right away a warrant may be put out for your arrest.

 

4.  Discharges 

Sometimes a Judge will decide that someone deserves a second chance and will sentence the person to a discharge.  If you receive an Absolute Discharge it means that you will not get punished and it will not appear on your permanent criminal record.  A Conditional Discharge is like a probation order.  The discharge is based on certain conditions which must be met.  If you meet these conditions for the time period set by the Judge, your discharge will become absolute.  If you do not meet the conditions, you will have to go back to court and the Judge will sentence you again.  

 

Discharges do not appear on your permanent criminal record.  If you get an absolute discharge and you commit another offence within one year of when you were sentenced, the discharge will appear on your record when you are sentenced for the more recent offence; if you get a conditional discharge it will stay on your record for three years in case you are sentenced for a new offence.  Dischargesdo stay on the record that is available to police and customs officers forever, but after a few years a discharge on your record is not likely to cause you any problems.

 

5.  Restitution 

If you plead guilty or are convicted of an offence involving theft or property damage, a judge may order restitution to be paid to the victim.  Restitution involves paying back the victim of the offence for either the items stolen or the damage done.  The Judge will tell you how much time you have to pay back the victim.  If restitution is made a condition of a probation order, or of a conditional discharge, or of a conditional sentence order, then failure to make restitution by the date in the order will result in a breach of the order. That would have criminal consequences.  But if restitution is made as a stand-alone compensation order, then it is filed in the Court of Queen’s Bench as a civil judgment, just as though you were successfully sued for the money.  The complainant then can make good on the claim against you by seizing your property, assets, wages, etc. after proceeding through proper legal channels, such as giving proper notice to you.

 

6.  Community Service 

Community service hours are often given as part of a probation order or as part of a conditional discharge.  If you are ordered to do community service, the Judge will decide how many hours you have to complete and how many months you will have to complete the hours.  Your probation officer will help you find (usually somewhere in your community) a place to perform your hours.

 

7.  Conditional Sentences 

If you are given a jail sentence of less than two years, you can ask the court if you can serve a conditional sentence instead of going to jail.  A conditional sentence allows you to remain living in your own community under the supervision of a probation officer and with certain conditions which will almost always include a curfew, and are often referred to as ‘house arrest’.  If you think that you are likely to be sent to jail, you can ask the Prosecutor if he or she would consider a conditional sentence instead.

 

If you are later found guilty of breaking a Conditional Sentence order, you may be ordered to serve the rest of your sentence in jail.

 

Conditional Sentence Orders are unavailable if you have committed certain types of crimes, for example violent crimes that cause someone serious personal injury.

 

8.  Alternative Measures 

Alternative measures is a way for people to deal with criminal charges.  You may be able to convince a Prosecutor to allow you to do the alternative measures in exchange for the charges being dropped against you. The Prosecutor can decide on what type of alternative measures are appropriate, but often they will choose things like counselling, apologizing to the victim or community service work.  

 

You have to accept responsibility for your actions in order to be considered for alternative measures.  Alternative measures will only be used if the Prosecutor thinks you are not going to commit another offence and deserve a second chance.  

 

If the Prosecutor decides to use alternative measures, you will have to go to court to have your court date moved to a later date. When you go back to court, the Prosecutor will withdraw the charges if you have completed the alternatives measures specified.  If you think that the Prosecutor will allow you to try alternative measures, you should phone the Prosecutor ahead of time to discuss your case; phone numbers for the Prosecutors’ offices are listed at the end of this pamphlet. Only minor types of offences and people without a criminal record are considered for the alternative measures program by the prosecution.

 

9.  Victim Offender Mediation 

You may also be able to get charges against you dropped by asking to participate in Victim Offender Mediation (called VOM).  VOM allows you to work out a solution with the victim of your offence to avoid having to deal with it in criminal court.  If you think that the victim in your case would be willing to try to work things out with you, you should ask the Prosecutor to check into VOM for you; the Prosecutors’ phone numbers are listed at the end of this pamphlet.

 

10. You may lose your fishing, hunting, firearms or drivers licence

Certain offences require a mandatory licence suspension such as driving while impaired.  This means that the judge must order that your licence be suspended.  The amount of time your licence is suspended will depend on the type of offence, and whether or not it is your first offence.  

 

For other offences, it is up to the discretion of the judge whether you lose your licence.  For 

example, negligent driving causing death or bodily harm.  This means that the judge gets to decide whether or not losing your licence will be part of your sentence.  

 

You may want to address why you should be able to keep your licence in your speak to sentence or why your licence should only be suspended for a short period of time.

 

11. Victims Surcharge on Offenders

A victims surcharge is an additional penalty imposed at the time of sentencing.  It is collected by the provincial government and used to provide programs, services, and assistance to victims of crime.

 

If you are found guilty of an offence, you will be charged a victims surcharge.  It is an automatic penalty unless you can prove that it would cause an excessive amount of hardship for you to pay it (undue hardship).  The surcharge amount is 15% of any fine imposed.  If no fine is imposed, it is $50 for a summary offence and $100 for an indictable offence.  The judge can increase the amount of the surcharge if he/she sees it fit.  

 

PRE-SENTENCE REPORTS

 

A judge can ask to get more information about you before he or she sentences you.  If this happens, you will not be sentenced until the judge has reviewed the assessment.  A probation officer prepares the pre-sentence report.  The probation officer may interview you, your family, your employer or anyone else who can provide relevant information.  This process usually takes a number of weeks.  

 

VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS

 

A victim impact statement is a written statement prepared by the victim and considered by the judge at the time of sentencing.  It allows victims to describe the impact of the crime on them and their families.

 

FINAL NOTE

 

This pamphlet only gives you very general information about speaking to sentence.   Each Judge and each city may have their own way of conducting court.  Do not be alarmed if you are confused by the procedure in court. The Judge will guide you through it.  If you have any questions or concerns about your speak to sentence, you should speak to Duty Counsel at the courthouse, contact a lawyer, or contact Student Legal Services for information before you go to Court.  You can also call a lawyer or Student Legal Services after you have been to court if you have any questions about what happened when you were in court or about the sentence you were given.

 

 

REFERRAL NUMBERS

 

 

Crown Provincial 

Prosecutor Court Clerk

 

Edmonton 422-1111 427-7863

Leduc 361-1206 986-6911

Morinville 939-6804 458-7300

St. Albert 458-7309 458-7300

Sherwood Park 449-1300 464-0114

Stony Plain 963-5009 963-6205

Wetaskiwin 361-1206 361-1204

[All the above numbers are in the 780 area code]

 

Lawyer Referral Service 1-800-661-1095 (toll free)

 

Student Legal Services [780] 492-2226

Corona Criminal Office (Downtown) [780] 425-3356

www.slsedmonton.com

Fine Option Program [780] 422-0359

 

Elizabeth Fry Society [780] 422-4775

          [780] 422-1175