Negotiating Plea Bargains

If police arrest you for a criminal offence in Canada, Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives you the right to a fair trial. However, the likelihood of your case going to trial is slim, as only “2% to 5% of criminal matters proceed to trial.”

You might be surprised to learn, then, that the Canadian criminal justice system resolves the vast majority of criminal cases through plea bargain negotiations. Over 90% of cases are resolved by plea negotiations in Toronto courts, according to numerous studies. And, as noted by Canada’s Department of Justice, without negotiating plea bargains, “the administration of justice could not operate efficiently and would in fact grind to a halt.”

Given the importance of plea bargaining in Canada’s court system, our criminal defence lawyers in Newmarket and throughout the Greater Toronto Area are adept at negotiating favourable plea deals. As a critical component in developing each client’s defence strategy, plea bargain considerations can be instrumental in securing reduced charges, mitigating penalties, and limiting criminal record impacts. Plea deals our firm negotiates for first-time offenders tend to be especially favourable.

Let’s examine the advantages of plea bargains and your Ontario defence lawyer’s role in ensuring that a negotiated guilty plea has as limited an impact on you as possible.

Understanding Plea Bargains: What is a Plea Deal?

The simplest plea bargain definition describes it as a defendant agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for reduced penalties from the court. In Canada, plea bargaining takes a broader form, with different types of plea bargains. Plea bargaining is a negotiation procedure between the defendant’s legal representation and Crown prosecutors. From the defence lawyer’s perspective, the essence of the plea bargain is what the Crown might be willing to offer in exchange for a guilty plea. Judges, who play no role in the negotiations, can reject or modify plea deal terms.

Plea bargaining typically begins before the trial date during pre-trial meetings. However, either side can request plea negotiations mid-trial, which often happens if unexpected evidence seems likely to change the case outcome. The primary types of plea agreements frequently negotiated in Canadian court cases include:

  • Pleading guilty to a reduced charge.
  • Pleading guilty to one or more charges in exchange for dismissal of other charges.
  • Pleading guilty in exchange for a lighter penalty.
  • Pleading guilty to secure a conditional or absolute discharge.

The Advantages of Plea Bargains

Successful plea bargains can benefit both the defendant and the Crown. With a plea bargain, the defendant can secure reduced or dismissed charges and penalties and may be able to avoid a criminal record that comes with a conviction. A plea agreement before trial also reduces the costs, time, and inconveniences of attending trial.

The Crown also benefits by eliminating the expenses, time, and other inconveniences of holding a trial. As noted, absent plea agreements, Canada’s court system might grind to a halt, as the number of defendants in the criminal court docket at any one time dwarfs the resources needed to try them all. With defendants guaranteed the right to a speedy trial, the Crown must avail itself of plea bargaining to keep the caseload flowing. The Crown will also often be amenable to negotiating a plea deal if it can protect a vulnerable victim from the trauma of having to testify.

Plea bargains benefit both parties by giving them advance notice of the case’s outcome. Trial outcomes typically remain uncertain until the judge renders their ruling, and additional uncertainty remains until sentencing. The Criminal Code gives judges broad discretion in imposing penalties that may be the difference between a fine or many years of imprisonment.

The Role of a Defence Lawyer in Plea Bargains

In negotiating a plea bargain, your defence lawyer’s role is to secure the most favourable outcome possible while ensuring your rights protection. Your right to a fair trial always serves as a backstop to the negotiations, and your lawyer needs to weigh the potential outcomes of a trial with what they might be able to secure with a plea deal. Before and during negotiations, your lawyer will assess the relative strength or weakness of the Crown’s case to determine what edge you might have in negotiations and whether you can win at trial. During talks, your lawyer will use this information to encourage the prosecutors to agree to favourable plea terms.

The fallback of proceeding to trial is often enough to force the prosecution’s hand if there are any weaknesses in their case. If you decide to proceed to trial, the plea bargain negotiations have likely helped your lawyer gain additional insights into how the Crown might try to make its case against you in court. And this can help them strategize a more effective defence.

Considerations Before Accepting a Plea Bargain

Your criminal defence lawyer will not develop a plea bargain without your input and collaboration. They will likely advise you on which plea bargain outcome represents the best options in your defence based on evidence and case details and then work to secure it. Before accepting a negotiated plea deal, you should always carefully consider whether it’s in your best interest. This involves weighing the proposed plea bargain outcome against both the best- and worst-case possible outcomes at trial.

Prepare an Effective Affidavit with a Criminal Defence Lawyer

Whether through plea bargain negotiations or a stout defence at trial, strategize the most effective response to criminal charges in Ontario with the criminal lawyers of Toronto’s Vilkhov Law. And if you’re facing possible pre-trial detention, jump-start your criminal defence with a defence lawyer skilled in successfully navigating their clients through bail hearings in Ontario. To learn more about our criminal defence expertise, contact our experienced legal team at Vilkhov Law for a free and confidential consultation.

By |2024-03-23T19:01:39+00:00March 27th, 2024|Criminal Defence|

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