Sentencing Hearings: If you are convicted of a crime, you will need to attend a sentencing hearing where the court will decide on an appropriate punishment. As a self-represented litigant (SLR), you can suggest to the judge what you believe is fair and the Crown attorney will also make recommendations. It is possible that you and the Crown attorney will agree on a sentence and jointly suggest it to the judge. However, the final decision on a sentence is always made by the court.
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What are the Objectives of Sentencing?
Section 718 of the Criminal Code outlines the principles judges must follow when reaching a sentence. They are:
- to denounce unlawful conduct and the harm done to victims or to the community;
- to deter the offender and others from committing offences;
- to separate offenders from society, if necessary;
- to assist in rehabilitating offenders;
- to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and
- to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders.
What Happens at a Sentencing Hearing?
If you are found guilty at a trial or elect to plead guilty, you are required to attend a sentencing hearing. Even if you were self-represented at trial, it is advisable to seek assistance from a lawyer at this crucial stage.
The Crown will recommend a sentence they think is appropriate. You also can suggest to the court what you consider to be a fair sentence. If you disagree with the Crown’s proposed sentence, you can explain why to the court. For example, if the prosecutor proposes a period of house arrest that requires that you not leave the city, you could tell the court how that will prevent you from seeing your children, if they are living with the other parent in another city.
How Do I Ask for a Lighter Sentence?
Though you have been found guilty of a crime, a sentencing hearing gives you a chance to show the court why you are worthy of leniency. Ask family members, friends or your employer for character reference letters. If alcohol or drugs played a role in your criminal actions, show the court you are addressing that through a treatment or rehabilitation program. Anything about your background or present circumstances that will help the judge understand your efforts to be a contributing member of society can be mentioned.
Before your sentencing hearing, check the Criminal Code to see what the maximum penalty is for the crime you have committed. Some offences have a minimum sentence. Also, do some research and find cases similar to yours. This is referred to as precedent. If someone was given a light sentence in a similar circumstance, you can bring up that case at your hearing and suggest the same punishment should apply.
What is a Joint Submission?
Self-represented litigants should talk to the Crown attorney before the hearing to see if you can reach agreement on an appropriate sentence. If you do come to an agreement, you can jointly present this to the judge. In most cases, judges will agree to that sentence unless they feel it is unreasonable in the circumstances. The judge always has the final say about what is the appropriate sentence.
What are Mitigating or Aggravating Factors?
In every sentencing, the judge will consider mitigating factors and aggravating factors before passing judgment. Mitigating factors are any circumstance that indicate a reduced sentence is fair. A guilty plea is one example, as it saves the court time and resources it would otherwise have spent on a trial.
Aggravating factors are any circumstances that could lead to an increased sentence because they increase the severity of the offence. This could include the use of a weapon during the crime or offences motivated by bias based on race, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation or gender identity.
What Sentence Can I Be Given?
The punishment you receive depends on the circumstance of your offence. Here are some common sentences.
There is no punishment and you will not have a criminal record after one year of staying out of trouble with the justice system.
You are required to complete specific actions (community service, alcohol management course, etc.). Once completed, you will not have a criminal record after three years of good behaviour.
Suspended sentence and probation
The sentence is postponed until some future time to give you time to complete all the conditions of the sentence. You still will have a criminal record.
You must repay any money taken or pay for the cost of repairing any property damage or for any physical or psychological injuries suffered by a victim.
A monetary penalty can be given as a stand-alone punishment or in conjunction with another type of sentence, and you will have a criminal record.
You may be sentenced to spend a specific amount of time behind bars. If you have already served some time in jail after being charged, you will receive credit for that time (usually 1½ times the actual time) and that will be deducted from your sentence.
Conditional sentence order
You serve your jail sentence while living at home. You will be under supervision and have to report periodically.