Sentencing in a criminal trial

Region: Ontario Answer # 761

What is sentencing?

Sentencing is where a judge decides what penalty to give a person who was found guilty at trial. Sentencing can occur immediately following the end of the trial, or it can be scheduled for a later date.

There are many different kinds of sentences. A judge may order that the guilty person pay a fine, go to prison, be supervised by a probation officer, or be prohibited from doing or possessing something. For example, a judge may order someone convicted of impaired driving to pay a fine and be prohibited from driving for one year.

Maximum sentences in the Criminal Code

The Criminal Code usually sets out the maximum fine and the maximum prison sentence for each offence. Sentences vary widely and judges rarely give the maximum sentence. Penalties for less serious offences usually have a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a fine of $5,000. In many less serious cases, probation, rather than a jail sentence, is ordered.

Sentences for more serious offences range from fines, to short prison terms, to life in prison. In certain cases, a prison sentence of less than two years can be served out of jail, and in the community.

In addition, some offences have mandatory minimum sentences, which means that if the accused is convicted, he or she must serve at least a minimum amount of time in jail.


Other factors considered in sentencing

Before the judge decides on the penalty, the defence lawyer and the Crown prosecutor are each given an opportunity to tell the judge what they think an appropriate sentence should be. The judge considers a number of personal factors when deciding a sentence, including the accused’s age, marital status, whether they are parents of young children, and whether they are employed. The judge will also look at the circumstances of the offence, whether the person has committed any offences in the past, whether violence was involved, whether the person is a danger to society, whether the crime was planned, and whether the person co-operated with the police.

Given the important ramifications of the judge’s decision, it is advisable that a person should always be represented by a lawyer when being sentenced.

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