Script 203 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
This script explains the following three penalties, called “sentences,” that a court can give if it convicts you of a crime under the Canadian Criminal Code or Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:
- a conditional sentence.
- a discharge.
Both the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are available at laws.justice.gc.ca. Click on “English” and then on “Consolidated Acts”. Then scroll down to the name of the law.
The script does not:
- cover sentences under other federal laws (for example, the Fisheries Act) or provincial laws (for example, the Motor Vehicle Act); in those cases, the possible penalties are different and probation works differently.
- explain other possible sentences – fines, jail, or licence suspensions.
- apply to anyone under 18 years old; for information about young people and criminal law, check scripts 225, called “Young People and Criminal Law” and 226, called “Youth Justice Court Trials.”
If you’re charged with a criminal offense, talk to a criminal defense lawyer before you plead guilty or admit anything to the police or prosecutor (also called Crown Counsel or Crown). A lawyer can tell you if you have a defense to the charge, or if the Crown can prove the case against you. Then you can decide what to do. Also, check scripts:
- 211, called “Defending Yourself Against a Criminal Charge”
- 212, called “Pleading Guilty to a Criminal Charge”
- 205, called “Criminal Records and Applying for a Record Suspension”
What is a conditional sentence?
A conditional sentence is a jail sentence that you serve in the community, instead of in jail. Judges will use a conditional sentence only if they are satisfied that you won’t be a danger to the community and you don’t have a history of failing to obey court orders. A judge can’t give you a conditional sentence if the sentence is longer than 2 years, if the law sets a minimum jail term, or if the Criminal Code lists the crime as a violent offense. A conditional sentence usually has strict conditions, including a curfew. If you disobey the conditions, a judge can send you to jail for the rest of the time left on your sentence.
What is probation?
Probation is a sentence that requires you to follow certain conditions for a set time that can last up to 3 years. During that time, you must follow the terms of the probation order. Usually, that means you must keep the peace, be of good behaviour, report regularly to a probation officer, and keep the probation officer informed of your current address. Depending on the offence, you may also have to report to a probation officer periodically, avoid certain people, avoid using alcohol and drugs, attend counseling, pay back damages you caused to the victim, or perform community service. The judge still convicts you of the offense, but then suspends the sentence and releases you on probation.
Probation may be the only penalty, or it can be combined with other penalties, including a fine, a discharge, or a jail term less than 2 years. But a judge can’t give a person all three penalties of jail, a fine, and probation. You could get the following combinations: a fine and probation, or jail and probation, or jail and a fine. The judge may also order you to perform up to 240 community service hours and receive counseling.
If you don’t follow the terms of your probation, you can be charged with breach of probation. If you’re convicted of breach of probation, the court can cancel your probation and sentence you for both the original offense and breach of probation. The usual penalty for breach of probation is a jail term.
What is a discharge?
A discharge means that the judge finds you guilty, but then discharges you instead of convicting you. A discharge is usually only available for more minor offences and if you have no history of similar offences. You have to convince the judge that a discharge is appropriate. The judge considers your character and whether a discharge is against public policy.
There are two types of discharge: absolute and conditional. Most discharges are conditional.
A conditional discharge means you’re on probation with conditions (described above). If you obey the conditions until the end of the probation, then the law treats you as if you had not been convicted of a crime. But if you don’t obey the conditions, or you don’t finish the probation, you can be charged with breach of probation.
An absolute discharge means that you immediately have no criminal record.
The police and courts keep records of discharges under the Criminal Records Act. If you’re convicted of a criminal offense later, the court can consider your earlier discharge. And if the police check your record, they might see your discharge. The RCMP removes from its records absolute discharges 1 year after the date of the sentence and conditional discharges 3 years after the date of the sentence. But for all discharges before July 24, 1992, you have to make a written request to remove the discharge.
If you want to ensure the RCMP remove your discharge, get more information from their website at www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca. Click on “English”, then on “Criminal Records Check” and then on “Pardon and Purge Services”. You can also go to the website index to find the section on pardons and purges. Also, check script 205, called “Criminal Records and Applying for a Record Suspension”, for more information. As of March 2012, a “pardon” is called “record suspension”. But the RCMP website still uses the term “pardon”.
What other orders can a judge make?
If you get a conditional sentence, probation, or a conditional discharge, the judge can also:
- make a “no go order” (or “no contact order”) to ensure you have no contact with a particular person or place.
- prohibit you from having any firearms or other weapons, like knives.
- order you to give a sample of your DNA for the DNA National Data Bank if the Crown asks for this.
- make a compensation order allowing the person whose property was damaged to sue you in civil court.
The judge must also make you pay a victim surcharge, which is 15% of any fine you got. If you didn’t get a fine, the surcharge is $50 for a summary offense (minor offense) and $100 for an indictable offense (more serious offense). The judge can also make the surcharge a higher amount. This surcharge is in addition to any other fine you get. If you do not have money to pay the surcharge, you can ask the judge not to impose it.
[updated April 2012]
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