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Sentencing

While criminal lawyers spend countless hours analyzing particulars, preparing for, and conducting trials with the goal of impeaching witnesses and excluding incriminating evidence, it should be noted that the vast majority – perhaps 90% of criminal cases – are resolved by way of a guilty plea. Obviously, accused persons who have been convicted must also prepare for sentencing. As experienced, skilled defence lawyers, our goal is to obtain the most lenient sentence for our clients that the law will allow.

Range of Available Sentences

No Criminal Record

There are police investigations that result in outcomes that fall short of a conviction, so there is technically no sentence ever imposed. Clearly, these results are the best possible outcome for a person suspected of committing a crime. These outcomes include:

  • No charge being approved because Crown considers that there is insufficient evidence that would lead to a conviction. Alternatively, Crown may elect to not approve a charge because, in the circumstances, there is no public interest in proceeding with the prosecution.
  • Charges that are resolved through Alternative Measures. The alternative measures program is a system by which first time offenders who are prepared to take responsibility for their actions can avoid a criminal prosecution by admitting the offence in an informal way and agreeing to perform restorative justice requirements such as apologies and community work service.
  • Charges that are resolved by way of a Peace Bond – a recognizance under s. 810 of the Criminal Code. When a person enters into a Peace Bond, they are not convicted of a criminal offence. Rather, they are placed under a court order for up to 12 months to abide by certain conditions, typically conditions that prevent contact with the complainant or other witnesses to an allegation.

Discharges

Canadian law permits a court that has found an accused guilty, or who has pleaded guilty, to be “discharged” either on conditions or absolutely. A discharge will be granted only where the court is able to conclude that in the circumstances of the offence and of the offender, that it is in both the best interests of the accused and the community for a discharge to be granted rather than a conviction to be entered. A discharge is available for many offences, but is generally not available for serious offences that involve violence, or where the Criminal Code provides for minimum mandatory sentences.

The effect of an Absolute Discharge is that the accused is able to leave the court with absolutely no further obligations or conditions. The Criminal Records Act provides that the record of an absolute discharge may not be disclosed to anyone after twelve months have elapsed.

The effect of a Conditional Discharge is somewhat different. The court may place the discharged person on a probation order, on various conditions, for up to three years. Conditions may include such things as “no contact,” no weapons, or counselling conditions. The Criminal Records Act provides that the record of a conditional discharge may not be disclosed to anyone after three years have elapsed.

Suspended Sentence and Probation

The court may suspend the passing of sentence and place the accused on probation for any offence that does not carry a mandatory minimum sentence. A probation order may contain such “reasonable conditions” as the court considers desirable. For example, it may require the accused to report regularly to a probation officer; to make efforts to seek and obtain employment or education, refrain from the use of alcohol, cannabis, non-prescription drugs, or to take counselling as directed. It is a separate chargeable offence if the offender breaches the probation order. When the court suspends sentence, and places the offender on probation, the offender obtains a criminal conviction record for the offence. The record is permanent, but the offender may apply for a pardon or record suspension if they obtain no further convictions and at least 5 years elapse in the case of summary convictions and 10 years elapse in the case of indictable convictions.

Recent Successes

R. vs. V.B. – Vancouver Provincial Court

.Charges: Assault; Uttering Threats (domestic).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to provide information to Crown counsel on our client's behalf which resulted in Crown deciding to enterr a stay of proceedings on both charges. Stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. T.C.C. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charges: Assault of a Peace Officer.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for our client to be granted a discharge for his actions in spitting in the face of an RCMP officer at the Vancouver Airport.
Result: Mr. Gauthier presented information to the Court and after hearing his submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal record.

R. vs. F.S. – North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Theft Under $5000.
Issue: Whether Crown could prove the number and value of the electronic devices they alleged our client stole from his workplace.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to allege that the theft involved  only 7 devices worth only $1000. After hearing Mr. Mines submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. M. G. – Sechelt RCMP investigation

Charges: Criminal harassment; Distributing intimate images without consent.
Issue: Whether the Crown could prove the circumstantial evidence they sought to rely on and whether jail was the  appropriate sentence.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to convince Crown counsel to not rely on much of the aggravating evidence and, on our client's guilty plea to not seek a jail sentence. After hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions, the Court granted our client a suspended sentence with probation. No jail.

R. vs. E.K. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Criminal harassment; Distributing intimate images without consent.
Issue: Whether the Crown could prove the circumstantial evidence they sought to rely on and whether jail was the  appropriate sentence.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to convince Crown counsel to not rely on much of the aggravating evidence and, on our client's guilty plea to not seek a jail sentence. After hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions, the Court granted our client a suspended sentence with probation. No jail.

R. vs. K.L. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issues: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide information to Crown counsel that resulted in Crown electing to stay the proceedings and to end the prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. H.S. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault with a weapon.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide information to Crown counsel which resulted in Crown deciding to end the prosecution not approve any charges.  No criminal record.

R. vs. J.L. – UBC RCMP Investigation

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of obtaining a criminal conviction and whether it was in the public interest for police to recommend charges.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to provide information to police whic resulted in police closing their investigation. No charges recommended. No criminal record.

R. vs. T.A. – West Shore RCMP investigation

Charge: Assault (Domestic).
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for the Crown to proceed with a criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Gauthier provided information to Crown Counsel that convinced them not to approve charges against the client. No criminal prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. J.S. – Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Sexual Assault (reduced to common assault.)
Issue: Whether Crown counsel could prove that our client touched the complainant for a sexual purpose.
Result: Mr. Mines was able tp persuade Crown counsel that our client did not intend to touch the complainant in a sexual manner. The Crown agreed to proceed on the lesser charge of common assault and, after hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Judge granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction. No jail. No sex offender registry.

R. vs. N.R. – Sechelt Provincial Court

Charge: Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Whether it was in the pubic interest for our client to be sentenced to a conditional discharge for this offence which resulted in a serious facial cut to the complainant.

R. vs. S.K. – Surrey Provincial Court

Charges: Assault; Assault with a Weapon, Breach of a Release Order.
Issue: Whether our client could be released on bail given Crown's concerns for his willingness to attend court and potential to commit further offences.
Result: Mr. Johnston was able to persuade the Judge to release our client on the least onerous conditions.

Fines

For summary conviction offences, there is a maximum fine of $5000. For indictable offences, there is no maximum fine. A fine is almost always imposed along with a term that there shall be a set amount of jail time to be served in default of payments. If a person is unable to pay their fine within the prescribed time, they may apply to the court for an extension of time to pay. Generally, if it seems that the applicant has been diligent in their payment attempts, the court will grant an extension of time.

Imprisonment and Release

When a person is sentenced to a jail term of less than two years, the sentence is served within the province, in a provincial corrections centre. When the sentence is two years or more, the sentence is served in a federal penitentiary. Generally, prisoners within the provincial system will be released after serving two thirds of their sentence. This is known as earned remission and is granted for good behavior within the facility. Prisoners within the federal system, and those serving long sentences within the provincial system, are eligible for conditional release before sentence expiration if they qualify for parole. The Parole Board of Canada is responsible for making decision about parole. When a person is granted parole, they may serve the remaining portion of their sentence in the community, usually on restrictive and protective conditions.

Intermittent Sentence of Imprisonment

When a person is sentenced to a jail term of 90 days or less, the court may order that the sentence can be served, for example, on 3-day weekends, which allows the person to be released into the community on the remaining days. This type of sentence will be granted in situations where the court views it as desirable for the person to maintain employment or education.

Conditional Sentence Order (CSO)

Under section 742.1 of the Criminal Code, if a person is sentenced to a term of less than two years, the court may order that the sentence can be served in the community under strict conditions. This type of sentence is only available when the court can be satisfied that community safety would not be endangered and that serving the sentence in the community rather than a jail would be consistent with the “fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing.”

A CSO is not available for all offences, including:

  • Where there is a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment; and
  • For any offence where the maximum sentence is 10 years or greater.

In every case in which a CSO is available, we will endeavor to provide a detailed sentencing submission, supported by case law, that highlights why justice can be served through a strict and reasonable non-custodial sentence.

Sentencing Considerations

The court has a vast range of discretion within the limits of the Criminal Code provisions and prior case law that govern sentencing. Section 718 of the Code sets out the purpose and principles that are to govern sentencing. The basic objectives are:

  • To denounce unlawful conduct and the harm it causes;
  • To deter the offender and others from committing offences;
  • To separate offenders from society where necessary;
  • To assist in rehabilitating offenders;
  • To provide reparations to victims;
  • To promote a sense of responsibility in offenders.

Courts will also consider the following principles:

  • Any relevant aggravating or mitigating factors relating to the nature of the offence or the circumstances of the offender;
  • Aggravating factors include such things as:
    • Evidence that the offence was motivated by hate or bias; and
    • Evidence that the victim was a spouse or young person or that the offender was in a position of trust.

As skilled defence lawyers, we will always advocate for our client’s rights at any sentencing hearing. We will emphasize the rehabilitative steps our client has taken (often under our guidance). We will emphasize the following sentencing principles that are set out under s. 718.2 of the Code:

  • An offender should not be deprived of liberty if less restrictive sanctions may be appropriate;
  • All available sanctions, other than imprisonment, that are reasonable in the circumstances and consistent with the harm done should be considered for all offenders (with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders).

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.