Sentences in Canadian Criminal LawAndrew Captan
The sentencing phase of the criminal court process is triggered when either the accused person enters a guilty plea or they are found guilty at a trial. The purpose of a sentencing hearing is for the court to determine the fit and appropriate outcome or “punishment” for the offence(s) committed. The principles and purposes of sentencing with respect to adults (i.e. individuals who are 18 years or over) are found in the Criminal Code of Canada, while those that apply to youths (i.e. individuals who are from 12 to 17 years old) are outlined in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The range of available sentences varies, depending on whether the offender is an adult or youth. For adult offenders, the following is a list of sentences that a court may impose:
- Absolute discharge: when an individual is discharged absolutely, there is a finding of guilt, but no criminal conviction that follows. There are no conditions attached to the sentence. Note that although there is no criminal conviction, a “record” of the discharge is kept for a year on the Canadian Police Information Centre database (CPIC), after which point it is automatically removed. A discharge (whether absolute or conditional) is not available for all offences, and unavailable where the offence carries with it a mandatory minimum punishment OR a maximum punishment of 14 years or greater.
- Conditional discharge: like an absolute discharge, a conditional discharge results in a finding of guilt, but no criminal conviction. The main difference between a conditional and an absolute discharge is that the former requires the offender to complete a period of probation of up to three years. The record of the conditional discharge is kept on the CPIC database for 3 years after the completion of probation. The offender must be aware that if they violate a term of the probation order, that may result in a further charge of Failure to Comply with a Probation Order.
- Suspended sentence: this sentence involves an offender being released on a probation order with certain conditions for up to 3 years. A criminal conviction is registered once a suspended sentence is imposed. The offender must be aware that, if this probation order is breached, and s/he is convicted of the offence of Failing to Comply with a Probation Order during the suspended sentence, then the suspended sentence could be revoked and another sentence substituted by the court.
- Probation: a period of probation can also be imposed in conjunction with another sentence, such as a period of imprisonment. Once again, the maximum term of any probation order is 3 years.
- Fine: sometimes Courts impose a financial burden on an offender as a form of punishment. A fine may be imposed where the offender has means to pay it. The maximum fine for an individual charged with a summary conviction offence is $5,000, while there is no maximum set out for people charged with indictable offences.
- Conditional sentence of imprisonment: this is essentially a sentence of imprisonment that the court allows the offender to serve, conditionally, in the community. If the offender violates a condition of the conditional sentence order, the court may order the offender to serve the balance of the sentence in prison.