Yes, you can give up your right to a having trial and plead guilty at any time – even after your trial date is set.
That said, you should always talk to your lawyer or duty counsel (who advise you before a court hearing) about pleading guilty before you make this decision. You need to understand all your legal options before you make the decision to plead guilty to an offense.
What Should I Do Before Pleading Guilty?
It is vital that you thoroughly understand the particulars about your case before you make a guilty plea – no matter when you’re planning on making it.
A good place to start is by reading your disclosure. A disclosure is the copy of the evidence that the police and Crown have gathered about you to prosecute your case. The disclosure usually contains copies of:
- Police officers’ notes.
- Witness statements.
- Any other relevant documents.
The disclosure is usually given to you on your first court appearance. If you don’t understand your disclosure document, speak to your lawyer or duty counsel right away.
Really read through the synopsis of your particular charge(s) in the first few pages of the disclosure package carefully. The synopsis is a written summary of the evidence the police have collected against you.
You might agree with all, part of or none of what the synopsis says. Tell your lawyer what you agree with and what you do not agree with. Your lawyer will then give you advice about your possible guilty plea. Even if you agree with everything the police is saying about what you have done, you should still talk to your lawyer before making the guilty plea. And if you have only a minor disagreement about what is being said about your alleged criminal offense, you should definitely talk to a lawyer before pleading guilty.
Why? Your lawyer can tell you what difficulties the Crown might have in their case against you and any possible defence strategies that are available to you. Your lawyer can also tell you what the Crown is seeking as a sentence and what sentence you probably will receive if you move forward with a guilty plea. These are things that you really should explore before you make any sort of plea – even if you decide to change your plea to guilty before or during the proceedings against you.
You should also know what “the facts” are against you. For more reasons why, consult the section on “the facts” after this next paragraph.
Also, you may get an “additional disclosure” after you obtain your initial disclosure package. Be sure that nothing is missing from your initial disclosure. If you have a lawyer, they will make sure that you have all of the disclosure and ask for an additional disclosure, if needed. If there is anything missing and you don’t have a lawyer, you should speak to a lawyer right away so they can request the Crown for more information. This could be very important to your case and your decision to plead guilty.
What are “the Facts”?
The facts are usually the events described in your disclosure’s synopsis. Therefore, if you don’t agree with any or all the facts, you should never plead guilty.
This is a key part of any guilty plea, so it is extremely, extremely, extremely vital that you understand what the facts are in your case and fully agree with them before pleading guilty. Your lawyer will go through these facts with you prior to your guilty plea.
In addition, the facts that are agreed upon by both you and the prosecution can either increase or lower the penalty you may receive. Some facts are very important. Some are not.
What Does a “Guilty” Plea Really Mean, Anyway?
This is a great question, and it is something that is not easy to explain in a blog article. (Which is another reason why you should always talk to your lawyer before making a plea.) Essentially, being guilty of something in reality and being “legally guilty” are often two very different things.
If you want to plead guilty to a legal, criminal offense, it means that the physical acts that you agree that you did (or things you did not do in negligence cases, for instance) are a criminal offense. Your state of mind also had to be guilty when you committed the offense. In most cases, this means that what you did is both a criminal offense and that you absolutely meant to do (or not do) what you did.
That also means that if you did something accidentally or did not mean to do it, that fact does not support a guilty plea – in most cases.
Again, this is a rather complex topic – so be sure to seek legal advice from a lawyer.
I Still Want to Plead Guilty. What Should I Bring to Court?
If we still haven’t persuaded you against pleading guilty, and you still want to go ahead with a guilty plea (assuming that you agree that you are legally guilty of the criminal offense(s) and agree with everything being said against you), you should bring the following items to court:
- Your disclosure.
- Reference letters that speak to your good character. These can be from employers, volunteer organizations, religious groups, teachers and professors, and neighbours and family members.
- Proof of employment in the form of a signed letter.
- Proof of counselling, if applicable.
- Proof of community service, if applicable.
What Is a “Plea Inquiry”?
This is the first phase of a guilty plea. These are four questions that a judge will ask you in court before you’re allowed to plead guilty. Your duty counsel or lawyer will have asked these questions of you privately if you tell them you plan to plead guilty. These questions will let the judge know that you fully understand what it means to plead guilty, that you are aware that you can plead not guilty and have a trial, and that you are fully aware of what can happen to you if you plead guilty.
If the judge is not satisfied with your answers, they will reject your guilty plea and proceed directly to trial.
Otherwise, your lawyer can talk to you about what happens after a plea inquiry is heard.
If you already have a lawyer, it is best that you contact that person. We cannot become involved in your case.
If you don’t have a lawyer, and if you’re thinking of pleading guilty after a trial date has been set (or, at any time, really), Armoured Suits offers a complimentary 30-minute private consultation. Contact Armoured Suits by phone at 613-233-0008 or e-mail at [email protected] to book your meeting.