Resolutions of Criminal Charges

Despite what we usually see on television, most criminal charges are resolved prior to trial. From 2008 to 2009, it was reported that over 90 percent of all adult criminal charges were completed before the start of any trial proceeding. While most charges were resolved by way of a guilty plea, about one-third were either withdrawn or stayed by the prosecution.

Withdrawals or Stays

A withdrawal is a mechanism by which a prosecutor can terminate the charge on a permanent basis. Similarly, a stay puts a temporary hold on the prosecution of the matter. However, in effect, it usually becomes permanent as well. Whether it is a stay or withdrawal, the effect is to remove the information or indictment from the jurisdiction of the court and to vacate any related orders for bail or release.

Reasons for Termination of Charge

There are numerous reasons why the prosecutor may decide to terminate the criminal proceedings. Sometimes, after reviewing the file, the prosecutor may determine that there is not enough evidence to reasonably expect a conviction. In other cases, the continued prosecution of the charge may be deemed to not be in the public interest if, for example, the complainant in a relatively minor offence does not wish to have it continued. However, the most common reason for withdrawals or stays is that they form a part of a plea agreement, where the accused plead guilty to a few other associated charges.

Alternative Measures

In some cases, the prosecutor might conclude that a simple withdrawal or stay is not appropriate, but for other reasons, does not feel that taking the matter to trial is in the best interest of the public. This most often occurs with minor offences, where the prosecutor feels there is enough evidence to prosecute. Still, the sentencing objectives outlined in the Criminal Code of Canada (“the Code”) can be achieved without saddling the accused with a criminal record. Suppose the accused is deemed an otherwise law-abiding citizen who committed a minor offence due to certain understandable circumstances rather than bad character. In that case, the crown may consider such a resolution. 

Section 717 of the Criminal Code

Under section 717 of the Code, the prosecutor has the option of offering alternative measures as a resolution to the charges. These are defined in section 717 as “measures other than judicial proceedings under the Act used to deal with a person who is eighteen years of age or over and alleged to have committed an offence.” These measures are established by either the provincial or federal government and may require the accused to do any number of things, from community service hours to donations to a charity. If the accused fulfills their obligation, the prosecutor will withdraw the charges. Suppose the prosecutor fails to withdraw the charges despite the accused having completed the alternative measure. In that case, the judge has the authority to do it regardless.

Challenges to Alternative Measures

One problematic aspect of alternative measures is that they cannot be used if the accused denies participation or involvement in the offence. It is often the case that an accused will agree to the alternative measure as a way of avoiding prosecution but continue to maintain their innocence. For this purpose, counsel will often avoid speaking about the charges altogether and put on the record that their client does not admit to any criminal or civil liability or allows the prosecution to withdraw the charge and not make any statement at all.

Peace Bond

A peace bond is another legal mechanism under which the prosecution can resolve charges early. This court order requires the accused to keep the peace, be of good behaviour, and comply with any other imposed conditions for a certain duration. Like alternative measures, peace bonds are often used in minor offences where the prosecution believes that taking the matter to trial is not in the public’s best interest of the public. Also, during peace bond hearings, the accused will not make admissions of guilt. Suppose the offence involved some physical altercation with another person. In that case, there will usually be a condition to have no contact with that person except with their specific permission.

Consequences and Implications of a Peace Bond

A peace bond is not to be taken lightly. They always come with some sort of monetary pledge. Criminal penalties may follow if the bond is breached by seeing the party not to be contacted or by committing another offence. The accused will be criminally charged with breaching a breach of a court order and will have to, at a minimum, pay the agreed upon bond. Suppose there are no issues after the set period of time expires. In that case, the peace bond is erased from most records, and the accused is deemed to have discharged their obligation to the court.

This blog post does not constitute legal advice and was written solely to provide information. If you would like to consult with a lawyer about the issues raised in this post, please contact Empel Law Professional Corporation at 416-500-1937.

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Arkadiusz J. Empel urodził się w Katowicah. Jako dziecko emigrował do Kanady, razem z rodziną, lecz wrócił jako student aby ukończyć Pracę Magisterską w Krakowie. Przez swoją pracę z polonią w okolicy Toronto utrzymał władność w swojim języku ojczystym. Jeżeli Państwo życzy się skonsultować prosto z adwokatem Polski, proszę przedzwonić na numer 416-500-1937.