Someone convicted of a crime gains the stigma of a criminal record and may going to jail if found guilty. A criminal conviction can have a significant impact on the person’s life both in the short term and long term, as their freedom, job prospects, immigration status, ability to travel and more may be affected. You should seek legal advice and representation if possible. See Legal Help for more information.
If you plead guilty or are found guilty after trial, a judge (not a jury) will decide your sentence after hearing from you and/or your lawyer and the Crown. In some cases the victims and other witnesses may give statements.
The judge will try to come up with a fair sentence by balancing:
- the circumstances of the offence
- the circumstances of the offender (including factors related to their background as an Aboriginal person if applicable)
- the seriousness of the offence (including the impact on the victim)
- the offender’s degree of responsibility
If you identify as Indigenous, the judge must consider the unique circumstances and experiences of Indigenous peoples when determining a fit sentence. The unique challenges faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada are called Gladue factors and include:
- the ongoing effect of colonization on you and your community,
- loss of language,
- the impacts of the residential school system and foster care system
Judges must consider sentences other than jail, such as restorative justice programs. They may still decide jail is an appropriate sentence.
To better understand the offender, the judge may request a pre-sentence report prepared by a probation officer. A pre-sentence report will give more information about the offender’s background and current circumstances.
A Gladue report may be prepared for Indigenous offenders to help the judge understand the factors particular to Indigenous people that may have contributed to the offender ending up in court. See Are you Indigenous?
A victim impact statement allows the victim to tell the offender and the court how the offender’s action impacted them.
The main purpose of sentencing is to contribute to respect for the law and to a just, peaceful, and safe society by imposing fit sentences that have one or more of the following objectives:
- denounce the unlawful conduct and harm to the victim;
- deter (discourage) the offender and others from committing such crimes;
- separate offenders from society when necessary;
- assist in rehabilitating the offender;
- provide reparations for harm done to the victim and the community; and
- promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgment of the harm done.
The sentence should match the offender's degree of responsibility for the offence.
Types of Sentence
Absolute or Conditional Discharge: For less serious offences only. If you are discharged, a conviction will not be registered on your criminal record. If you are given a conditional discharge you must agree to and follow certain conditions on a probation order for a certain amount of time before you are discharged. If you are given an absolute discharge, you are discharged right away and do not have to follow any conditions.
Suspended Sentence and Probation: If you are given a suspended sentence you will have to follow a probation order with conditions for a certain amount of time up to 3 years. Unlike with a conditional discharge, a conviction will be recorded and you will have to apply for a pardon to remove it from your criminal record.
Fine: A fine can be imposed on its own or in combination with imprisonment or probation. If you are convicted of a summary offence, the maximum fine is $5,000.
Conditional Sentence: If the judge imposes a sentence of less than 2 years imprisonment, the judge may order that it be served in the community with conditions in some cases.
Imprisonment: Imprisonment is the most serious penalty. The type of offence the offender is convicted of determines the range of prison time a judge can impose. Summary offence convictions have a maximum prison time of 6 months. Indictable offences can range all the way to life in prison without parole eligibility for 25 years.
- Intermittent Sentence: If an offender is sentenced to less than 90 days in prison, a judge may order that they serve it blocks of time while being released on a probation order in between. This can allow an offender to continue to maintain work or take care of a child.
- Dangerous offender: The Crown can apply for someone to be declared a dangerous offender. Dangerous offenders can be sentenced to an indeterminate (without an end date) length of time in prison. Their imprisonment will be reviewed every 7 years.
How to Prepare for a Sentencing Hearing
Sentencing is an individualized process meaning the judge will want to know about you and your circumstances to come up with a fit sentence. They will consider your personal background and your criminal record. If you are an Indigenous person, they will consider
You may want to prepare documents to give the judge a better understanding of you you are and support a lower sentence such as:
- letters of support from employers or agencies where you have volunteered
- proof of a job or offers of a job
- personal letters of reference
- proof that you have enrolled in rehabilitation programs
Make the court aware of any obligations you have related to:
- your job
- going to school
- taking care of your health
Appealing your Sentence
You can try to appeal your sentence but you must act quickly. You must file your Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the date that your sentence was imposed. You should get legal advice as soon as possible. See Legal Help for more information.
If you are only appealing your sentence, you must obtain leave (permission) to appeal. You have to show that your appeal is not frivolous and has a reasonable chance of success.
Go to CourtofAppealBC.ca to learn more about how to appeal your sentence.