Justice Process - Sentencing

If the accused is found "guilty" the judge must choose from a range of sentences set by law and decide on the appropriate sentence.

The judge will consider:

  • The circumstances about the crime
  • The offender's criminal record
  • The offender's personal history
  • The impact of the crime on the victim
  • The amount of responsibility that is taken by the offender.

Does someone help the judge decide what the punishment should be?

The Crown prosecutor and the defence counsel have the chance to tell the judge about the offender.  They will make suggestions to the judge about the appropriate punishment based on the circumstances around the event and case law.  Case law is the decisions from other judges on similar crimes.  Other help for the accused can include:

  • Certain documents can show that the accused was a good person (volunteer, employment, character letters, counselling records) can be used to advocate a lower sentence.
  • The judge may ask a probation officer to prepare a pre-sentence report which provides background and other information to help the court understand the accused person.
  • The victim may tell the judge how the crime has affected them by preparing a Victim Impact Statement.  The judge must consider the Victim Impact Statement before deciding on a sentence.  Learn more about the Victim Impact Statement.
  • Indigenous people can request a sentencing circle.  Community members come together to discuss the possible sentence that may help to make the offender accountable to the community.
  • The Criminal Code directs the judge what to consider in deciding on a sentence.
  • The Criminal Code also directs the judge what the maximum sentence could be for a specific crime and, in some cases, what the minimum sentence should be.

What types of sentences are there?

There are many sentences and combinations of sentences the judge can choose from such as:

Absolute discharge.  This means the accused will not be punished.  Usually this is given to first-time offenders, a young person, and relatively minor offences.   The accused must accept responsibility for the crime and plead guilty.   It stays on their criminal record file for one year.

Conditional discharge.   The offender is required to fulfill certain conditions for a period of time, which is called probation. Usually this is given to someone who has committed a relatively minor offence. The accused must accept responsibility for the crime and plead guilty. This is used instead of a prison term or other punishment.

Fines.   The offender will be ordered to pay an amount of money for the offence, up to many thousand dollars. The government will collect and keep this money, not the victim.

Restitution.   The offender will be ordered to pay the victim for any injuries or to replace any property that was taken or damaged. It stays on their criminal record for 3 years.

Probation.   An offender will not go to jail, but will be supervised by a probation officer for a period of time.   The offender is to be of good behaviour and tell the probation officer or youth worker of any changes of address, school or work.   There may be special conditions that they need to follow

Conditional sentence.   The offender serves time (less than two years) under supervision in the community along with certain conditions instead of jail.

Intermittent sentence.   The offender will go to jail for blocks of time, such as every weekend.

Custodial sentence.   An offender sentenced to less than two years will stay in a provincial correctional institution and may be on probation after that time.   The offender will have to follow certain rules and report to a probation officer regularly.

Federal sentence.   An offender sentenced to two years or more serves the time in a federal penitentiary.  After serving at least one third of the sentence, an offender who has good behaviour can ask for parole.   Parole allows the offender out of jail, with strict rules and supervision before the sentence is completed.   An offender on parole who does not follow the rules may be returned to jail.

Dangerous offender.   A person who commits a very violent crime against another person may be declared and sentenced to stay in a federal prison for as long as they are considered dangerous.   In some cases, this will be indefinitely.   A special request and hearing must be held to declare an offender a dangerous offender.