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When a person decides to enter a guilty plea, there are a number of steps that he or she can take to hopefully receive a less harsh sentence. This pamphlet will outline some of these steps, as well as present some of the different types of sentences that a guilty person may face.




It is important to make a positive impression on the judge. 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.





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). You will have to tell them your name, your birth date, and what you are charged with.

  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.


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 (the benches between the doors and the bar). When the Court Clerk or the Prosecutor calls your name, 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 pled not guilty at your first appearance and you want to change your plea to guilty, you must tell the Judge.


c. Once the guilty plea is entered, the Judge may ask you a few questions to determine that 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 facts of the offence.  Listen carefully to ensure the facts are correct.  The Judge will ask you if you acknowledge the facts as read. If there is a point that is incorrewct, tell the Judge your view of the incident. 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.




You should prepare your "speak to sentence" ahead of time. There are two objectives: 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 positive characteristics. However, if you 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


You may want to talk about the following in your Speak to Sentence:   



1.  Your Character

  1. Age and background:

    1. Your birth date & where you were born

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

    3. Any disabilities that you have

    4. 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. Your level of education (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 Prosecutor mentions it, you can offer an explanation (ex. offence was committed during a rough time in your life, other special circumstances surrounding the offence (like shoplifting a $2.00 item), or that you had a problem with drugs or alcohol in the past.


  1. Other

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

    2. Any 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 suffered embarrassment, financial loss, or family problems as a direct result of being charged with the offence

    5. If a criminal record will have a negative effect upon your life (ie. you will get fired or will not be able to obtain a job)


2.  Circumstances Surrounding the Offence 

Generally, you should say nothing about the offence unless mitigating circumstances exist (i.e. shoplifting to feed your hungry children). 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.




The type of sentence you receive after pleading guilty or being convicted is different for each offence, and depends 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

The Judge will ask you whether you need time to pay the fine. If the Judge does not ask, you should mention it yourself. You will need to have a good reason if you want more than 3 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.


You can apply for an extension of time to pay if it is impossible for you to pay by the due date. If you have made reasonable efforts to pay, 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. 


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. The address and phone number to the Fine Options Program will be on your Time to Pay slip (and at the back of this pamphlet).


2.  Jail Time 

A sentence may include an order to serve jail time. If jail is a possibility, you should make any necessary arrangements before you go to court (i.e. find care for your children, pay 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 must 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. You cannot serve a sentence intermittently if you did not pay a fine or if you are sentenced to serve more than 90 days.


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, 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 for sentencing.


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.  Discharges always stay on the record that is available to police and customs officers, 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 and will 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. The victim has a claim against you and can potentially seize your property, assets, wages, etc. after proceeding through the 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 must complete within a period of time.  Your probation officer will help you find a place (usually somewhere in your community) to perform your hours.


7.  Conditional Sentences 

If you are given a jail sentence of less than two years, you can ask the judge if it would be possible to 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. This is often referred to as 'house arrest'. Ask the Prosecutor if he or she would consider a conditional sentence instead of jail.


If you are 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 the victim serious personal injury.


8.  Alternative Measures 

The Alternative Measures Program is another way for people to deal with criminal charges. You must accept responsibility for your actions in order to be considered for the program. You can try to convince the Prosecutor to let you undertake alternative measures in exchange for the charges being dropped against you. He or she must believe that you are not going to re-offend and that you deserve a second chance. If you are successful, the Prosecutor will decide on the appropriate type of alternative measures--often that will be counselling, apologizing to the victim, or community service. 


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. 


Only minor types of offences and people without a criminal record are considered for the Alternative Measures Program.


9.  Victim Offender Mediation 

It may be possible to get your charges 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 (phone number for the Prosecutor is at the back of this booklet).


10. Loss of Fishing, Hunting, Firearms or Drivers Licence

Certain offences, such as driving while impaired, require a mandatory licence suspension. 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 it is your first offence.  


For other offences (ex. negligent driving causing death or bodily harm), it is at the discretion of the judge whether you lose your licence. In such a case, you may want to address why you should be allowed to keep your licence when you are speaking to sentence.


11. Victim Surcharge on Offenders

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


If you are found guilty of an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, you will be required to pay a victim surcharge. As the law currently stands, this surcharge is a mandatory penalty. However, in practice, judges exercise some discretion in ordering the victim surcharge. It might be possible to avoid the surcharge if you can demonstrate that it would cause an excessive amount of hardship. The surcharge amount is 30% of any fine imposed.  If no fine is imposed, it is $100 for a summary offence and $200 for an indictable offence.  The judge can increase the amount of the surcharge if he/she sees it fit.  




A judge can ask to get more information about you before sentencing.  A probation officer prepares the pre-sentence report. He or she may interview you, your family, your employer or anyone else who can provide relevant information. This process usually takes a few weeks.  




This 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.




This pamphlet only gives you very general information about speaking to sentence.   Different judges and different cities 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, you should consult 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 your courtroom experience or about the sentence you were given.





Edmonton Crown Prosecutor’s Office

6th Floor, J.E. Brownlee Building, 10365 – 97th


Edmonton, AB T5J 3W7


Ph: 780-422-1111


The Prosecutors Office has responsibility for the prosecution of Criminal Code, Youth Criminal Justice Act, and provincial statute offences. This includes working with the community to promote safe communities and implement alternative approaches to the administration of justice.


Elizabeth Fry Society of Edmonton

10523 100 Avenue NW

Edmonton, AB T5J 0A8


Toll free: 1-866-421-1175


The Elizabeth Fry Society of Edmonton is aimed providing at-risk women and girls with various programs and services. Programs include the Aboriginal Women's Program, Criminal Court Program, Employment Services Program, Financial Literacy Program, Legal Clinics, Imprisonment Programs, and youth programming. Services include smudging, laundry facilities, and drop-in workshops.


Fine Options Program

14605 134 Avenue NW

Edmonton, AB T5L 4S9


Ph: 780-422-0730

This program is run by the City of Edmonton for adult offenders who want to work off fines instead of making payments or spending time incarcerated.  Participants complete community work service for a specified number of hours, depending on how much of their fine they wish to pay off through this program. You must have your court papers and Time to Pay notice in order to register for the program.


Lawyer Referral Service



Toll free: 1-800-661-1095

When you call, you will speak to an operator and you will describe the nature of your problem to them. The operator will then provide you with the contact information for up to three lawyers who may be able to assist you. When contacting these referred lawyers, make sure to let them know that you were given their information by the Lawyer Referral Service. The first half hour of your conversation with a referred lawyer will be free and you can discuss your situation and explore options. Note: This free half hour is more for consultation and brief advice and is not intended for the lawyer to provide free work.  


Native Counselling Services of Alberta (NCSA)

10975 124 Street NW

Edmonton, AB T5M 0H9


Ph: 780-451-4002

NCSA provides numerous programs working to support and strengthen Aboriginal individuals and families. These programs include support in court, assistance with child/family service matters, housing and support for at-risk youth, and Aboriginal healing lodges. They do not provide therapy or counselling.


Provincial Court Clerks – Criminal Division



Ph: 780-427-7868

The Provincial Court Criminal Clerks are able to assist in providing information for Provincial Court Criminal matters regarding judicial procedures, court appearances, trial dates, adjournments, outstanding warrants, summonses, subpeonas, witness fees, and payment of fines. It is not their role to provide you with legal advice. The criminal division does not handle traffic matters.


Student Legal Services

11036 88 Ave NW

Edmonton, AB T6G 0Z2


Ph: 780-492-2226


Law students who provide legal information, but not individual legal advice. The students can provide free legal assistance, for less serious matters, to those over 18 & considered low income