Charged with a Crime in British Columbia?
This page summarizes the possible outcomes in the criminal justice system in Canada. If you have been charged with a criminal offence, the likelihood of ending up with a conviction and a criminal record is unique for each individual case. If you choose to plead guilty, or are found guilty by a judge, each charge and its possible outcomes generally fall into a range that is consistent province-wide, and that your lawyer should be able to explain. Also, certain charges are so serious that they are technically ineligible under the Criminal Code for some of the less punitive sentences such as a Discharge, or House Arrest.
Outcomes Without a Criminal Record
Non-Convictions for Guilty Persons
If you choose to take your matter to trial (usually 6 months to a year after your arrest), and you are found not guilty by a judge or jury, then you have been “acquitted” of the charges against you. You become eligible to have fingerprints and photographs destroyed, although your record of arrest may still show up on certain internal police databases.
This is a stoppage or suspension of the case against an accused without a determination of the merits of the case, or without a finding of guilty or not guilty. A Stay is usually granted by a judge because of some form of procedural unfairness, such as a violation of certain Charter rights, to the accused person. A Stay of Proceedings can also be requested by the Crown Attorney, however the Crown has one year during which they may choose to re-lay the original charge.
Prosecutors, not judges, are the ones with the power to withdraw or drop charges against an accused. This can usually happen for a variety of reasons, the most likely of which is because the Crown has concluded there is No Reasonable Prospect of Conviction. This is not a decision that the Crown makes easily, and usually requires a significant amount of negotiation and discussion between them and your lawyer.
After reviewing your case with you, your lawyer will be able to determine the strength of the Crown’s case against you. In situations where there is very little evidence to support a charge, your lawyer will discuss your case with the Crown attorney, who if in agreement, may then request that the charges against you be “dropped” or withdrawn based on “No Reasonable Prospect of Conviction.” A withdrawal of charges based on no reasonable prospect of conviction may arise at any point during your case, even on the eve of your trial.
For certain charges usually involving minor offences the Crown Attorney may agree to “drop” or withdraw the charges against you in exchange for you making a charitable donation or performing community service. Your case becomes “diverted” away from the courts and dealt with outside of the courtroom. Obtaining diversion for a client may also be possible, following your lawyer’s negotiations with the Crown prosecutor, in rare situations where the client has significant mitigating factors and excellent prospects, or faces significant consequences with respect to employment or immigration in the event of a conviction.
For certain charges usually involving crimes of violence such as assault, your lawyer may negotiate with the Crown Attorney to “drop” or withdraw the charges against you in exchange for you entering into a Peace Bond. Section 810 is the Criminal Code section that discusses Peace Bonds. A person can be asked to enter into a Peace Bond if there is some reasonable reason for another person to fear that person, or if there is a general public concern that they may engage in unlawful behaviour in the future. The Peace Bond is generally a promise that you make to the court in writing that carries certain conditions for a given period of time. The main condition is to “keep the peace and be of good behaviour”, and occasionally, to stay away from a person or a place for a given period of time, usually up to a year.
The original charge against you is usually withdrawn when you enter into the Peace Bond and does not come back. If, however, you end up getting re-arrested for something else, you may be charged with breaching the Peace Bond, which in itself is a Criminal offence. Note that Peace Bonds are rare in the criminal justice system, and are usually reserved for exceptional circumstances. If you agree or are made by the court to enter into a Peace Bond, a record of the Peace Bond may show up on a Vulnerable Sector Search.
If you plead guilty early or are found guilty by a judge or jury following a trial, a Judge may, usually at the request of your lawyer, instead of imposing a criminal conviction, grant you a “Discharge.” This is a rare remedy under the Criminal Code of Canada, where even someone who has been found guilty of a crime may still be eligible to walk away without a criminal record of conviction.
To be granted a discharge, your lawyer must explain to the Judge how this would be in your best interest and not against the public interest. An Absolute Discharge is immediate and there is no probation order, however the existence of the Absolute Discharge may appear on the RCMP’s national CPIC database. A record of the Absolute Discharge usually is removed from enforcement databases after a period of one year.
A Conditional Discharge usually contains certain probation requirements that must be fulfilled before the discharge becomes Absolute. These conditions may or may not include requirements such as reporting conditions, a no-contact order with a specific person, a prohibition against attending a specific place, or the completion of medical or counselling programs. While someone with a Conditional Discharge does not end up with a criminal record of conviction, it usually takes three years from the date of the discharge for the record of discharge to be removed from the federal RCMP CPIC enforcement databases.
The Criminal Code of Canada allows a judge to suspend a passing of sentence, and instead place a convicted person on a period of probation. If the convicted person breaches the probation order, they may be charged with breaching their probation, and the Crown may ask that the sentencing judge revoke the suspended sentence and impose any sentence the Judge finds appropriate. The period of probation can last for a number of months or up to a number of years, and may or may not require the convicted person to report regularly to a probation officer.
In certain situations upon conviction, a Judge may impose a monetary fine instead of jail time or probation. Although you may avoid jail and the amount of the fine may seem small, know that a fine carries with it a criminal record, and it is usually the consequences of such a criminal record that an unrepresented person is unaware of that may have more serious and significant consequences in the future.
A Conditional Sentence allows a person to serve his sentence while continuing to live at home or within his/her community, subject to conditions which may include supervision and reporting. If any of these conditions are breached, the court may convert the conditional sentence into a custodial (prison) sentence. As a result of recent amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada, certain charges are no longer eligible for periods of house arrest, or Conditional Sentences.
An Intermittent Sentence may be imposed in situations where the sentence of imprisonment does not exceed 90 days. Usually, a convicted person becomes required to surrender himself to prison for a number of days at a time (sometimes weekends from Friday to Sunday), and is released for the remainder of the time to be permitted to return home or attend work or school.
What is a Provincial Jail Sentence in British Columbia?
A provincial custodial sentence is a term of imprisonment. Depending on what you have been convicted of, this term can range from a number of days to, in certain situations, up to two years less a day. Every criminal charge under the Criminal Code carries a possibility of imprisonment. It is up to you to understand what the possible consequences of a finding of guilt are, and whether a custodial sentence may be imposed in your particular situation.
A federal custodial sentence is a term of imprisonment that is in excess of two years. The convicted person is sentenced to one of the 12 federal institutions in British Columbia.