You do not have to plead guilty.
Remember: it is up to the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you have committed an offence. This means that either a judge or a jury is absolutely certain that you broke the law and also knew you were breaking the law. If the judge or jury are not sure after looking at all the evidence, you must be found not guilty.
It is very important for you to read your disclosure, which is all the information that the police and the Crown have collected on your case, before you decide whether you want to plead guilty or not.
You should try and get some legal advice before making this decision.
If you choose to plead guilty, this means that you go to court and admit that you committed the crime you were charged with. You will then go straight to a sentencing hearing and skip the trial.
How do I plead guilty?
Read your disclosure
Your disclosure is the copy of the information that the Crown and police have collected.
Your disclosure will likely have the Crown’s screening form, which tells you whether or not the Crown will ask for a jail sentence if you plead guilty or if you’re found guilty after a trial. It may tell you that the Crown is recommending a peace bond or diversion—which means there might not even be a sentence or the need for a guilty plea.
You get your disclosure at your first appearance in court. (To learn more, please visit our page about first appearance.)
If you are in custody and want to plead guilty, you can get help from a lawyer known as duty counsel. You also have the right to apply for legal aid and, if you are eligible, we will pay for a lawyer to represent you.
You and your lawyer (if you have one) will have to go to a plea inquiry which is when the judge asks you:
- Are you pleading guilty voluntarily?
- Do you understand that, by pleading guilty, you are admitting to facts that make up a criminal offence? For example, you knew at the time that what was being done was against the law (this is called mens rea, which is about your intention) or that what was done was criminal (this is called actus reus, which is the guilty act).
- Do you understand the consequences of a guilty plea, including that you are giving up your right to have a trial by pleading guilty?
- Do you understand that the judge does not have to follow the sentence that your lawyer and/or the Crown are recommending? The judge, for instance, could impose a stricter sentence, which could include jail.
When it’s time for you to plead, a court clerk or judge will ask you to answer the criminal charges against you. This is when you will answer, “Guilty.”
Facts portion of guilty plea
After you plead guilty—and this may be on the same day or another day—the Crown will read out the summary of the facts they’re using to prove you’re guilty. This is called the synopsis.
The judge will ask if you agree with these facts. Let the judge know if you do. If you don’t agree with the facts, then you cannot plead guilty because pleading guilty means you agree that the offence happened in the way that the Crown has outlined in their summary. If you don’t agree with the facts, then a trial date will be set.
Sentencing doesn’t always happen on the same day that you plead guilty.
Sentencing may happen on another day because the judge wants to hear from the victim or look at a pre‑sentence report, which the court will ask your probation officer to prepare. This report has information about your background and helps the judge decide what sentence to give.
If your guilty plea is accepted, the judge finds you guilty. At a sentencing hearing, a sentence will be suggested by your lawyer and the Crown. The judge, however, can give you a different sentence from the one suggested. The sentence may, for example, be stricter.
To find out what kind of sentence a judge may give you, read our section about types of sentences.
What to bring with you to your plea inquiry to plead guilty
Take whatever is applicable to you from this list:
- Your disclosure
- Reference letters that speak to your good character
- A signed letter as proof of employment
- Proof of counselling
- Proof of community service
It’s very important that you make sure that all of the information you provide is accurate and truthful.
Types of sentences
A judge may consider:
- No jail time—this is either an absolute or conditional discharge (no conditions versus some conditions for up to three years). You won’t have a conviction registered against you—which means you won’t have a criminal record if you didn’t have one already.
- Suspended sentence, which involves following conditions between one to three years and means you will have a criminal record, but can apply for a pardon to remove that conviction from your record. Visit the Government of Canada website on record suspensions for more information.
- Probation, which is a court order to either do or not do certain things for a period of time. If you get a conditional discharge or suspended sentence, you will always have a probation order that you must follow for one to three years. You won’t have a criminal record if you didn’t have one already.
- A fine, which is an amount of money that you pay the court. This might be given in addition to imprisonment, a conditional sentence, or an intermittent sentence. You will have a criminal record, but can apply for a pardon to remove that conviction from your record. Visit the Government of Canada website on record suspensions for more information.
- Conditional sentence, which is sometimes called “house arrest.” If you are caught breaking any of the conditions without a good reason, there will be a hearing and a judge may make you serve the rest of your time in jail.
- Intermittent sentence, which is a jail sentence that you serve in “chunks” of time instead of all at once. For example, you may go to jail on the weekends and be out during the week. This sentence always includes probation.
- Imprisonment, which is a jail sentence that can be combined with probation or a fine.
- Steps to Justice: Guilty pleas and sentencing
- Steps to Justice: I want to plead guilty. How do I prepare for a guilty plea?