Deciding to plead guilty to a criminal charge is always a tough decision to make. The consequences are serious enough that it should be a carefully considered decision made in consultation with an experienced criminal defence lawyer. There are several things you must understand before pleading guilty:
- You must be prepared to admit that you are guilty of the offence you are pleading guilty to. This may sound obvious but there are many people who will stand up in court and explain to the judge that they are not really guilty but are just pleading guilty to get the matter done with. A judge will not accept such a plea.
- You must be prepared to admit the facts of the case as alleged by the Crown Attorney. The facts establishing the essential elements of the criminal offence must be admitted. If you are not prepared to admit the facts of the case, in most instances, your plea will not be accepted.
- Your guilty plea must be voluntary. If the judge is not satisfied that you are pleading guilty of your own volition, then he or she will not accept your guilty plea.
- The final decision as to sentence lies with the judge. This means that regardless of what your lawyer or the Crown Attorney may be seeking for a sentence, the judge has the power to sentence you as he or she sees fit.
- Pleading guilty will lead to a criminal record. Even a discharge (absolute or conditional) will create a criminal record as most people understand that term.
- By pleading guilty, you are relieving the Crown of its burden of having to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, if you plead ‘not guilty’, then the Crown is required to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
- You have the right to change your mind right up until the point that you actually plead guilty.
- Once the guilty plea process is complete, it is too late to reverse it. There have been very few instances where someone was able to successfully appeal after pleading guilty. But in the majority of cases, once you’ve pleaded guilty, you’re stuck with the consequences.
- Pleading guilty may impact on other aspects of your life such as employment, ability to travel, immigration status, etc.
If you are thinking about pleading guilty proceed with caution.