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How to Avoid a Criminal Record in Canada

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Anyone arrested for criminal charges in Canada naturally wants to avoid penalties handed down with a conviction. And many defendants who’ve committed relatively minor crimes do manage to dodge the onerous penalties courts can impose on them. Crown prosecutors frequently offer defendants a suspended sentence plea deal if they agree to plead guilty to the charges. Defendants who take this offer receive a suspension of whatever sentence would have been imposed on them, provided they abide by mandated probation provisions for a designated period.

Defendants—especially those without legal representation—are usually willing to jump on such offers to avoid sentencing that includes jail or prison time. This makes sense because freedom is precious; however, a suspended sentence still means that you’ve been convicted of a criminal offence, which comes with a life-long and life-changing criminal record . Eluding 30 days in jail may seem worth a plea deal for a suspended sentence, but that criminal record could easily hurt you in the longer term. A criminal record can:

  • Impact your current job and future employment opportunities.
  • Make you ineligible for licensing in numerous professional fields.
  • Impede your ability to travel to other countries.
  • Limit your rental housing options.
  • Cause problems with your permanent residency status and quest for citizenship.

In short, a criminal record can prove just as damaging to your life as the standard penalties that might be imposed by the court, especially in relation to potential sentences for low-level offences.

Thus, the Greater Toronto Area criminal defence lawyers of Mass Tsang suggest that many criminal defendants need to focus on criminal record avoidance when offered what may seem to be a favourable suspended sentence plea deal. With decades of experience negotiating plea deals and securing other positive outcomes for their clients, our lawyers are always mindful of the negative implications of a criminal record. Thus, when possible, we always strive to negotiate or strategize outcomes that get the charges dropped, dismissed, reduced to non-criminal, or otherwise favourably settled without a criminal record.

The vast majority of criminal cases settle out of court, with many undefended suspects accepting what is a generally favourable suspended sentence other than the criminal record that comes with it. Skilled criminal defence lawyers can prove instrumental in negotiating or otherwise securing outcomes that negate the criminal record. Read on to learn how we do it.

The Crown’s Willingness to Offer a Suspended Sentence

The Crown’s willingness to negotiate settlements with criminal defendants rather than go to trial stems mainly from the massive court caseload. Absent plea bargain settlements, Ontario’s provincial court system would be overwhelmed and eventually grind to a halt. Suspended sentences and other negotiated plea deals benefit the courts by negating the time and costs of holding a trial. As the outcomes of trials are never certain, plea deals benefit the Crown and defendant by providing them with the certainty of mutually favourable outcomes, with the Crown achieving the goal of meting out justice and the defendant gaining leniency in sentencing.

The suspended sentence offer is one of the most effective tools Crown prosecutors use to secure plea bargain deals and works with a carrot-stick approach. The threat of a potential jail or prison sentence serves as the stick while offering to suspend the sentence is the carrot. Undefended suspects, who may not understand the negative implications of a criminal record, tend to jump on such deals, but a competent criminal defence lawyer will strive to secure better terms that negate the criminal record.

Plea Bargain Basics

When you secure the services of a criminal defence lawyer, their first job is to investigate details of the alleged offence to determine if the Crown has a strong case and sufficient evidence to prove guilt in court. If not, your lawyer has a strong negotiating position to seek dropped or withdrawn charges, reduction of charges to non-criminal ones, pre-trial diversion , or other outcome that avoids a possible criminal conviction. Conversely, the stronger the Crown’s case and supporting evidence, the weaker your lawyer’s plea bargain leverage.

However, no matter the relative strength or weakness, plea bargaining is a give-and-take process that usually gives your defence lawyer some leverage to mitigate punishment. And if the Crown offers a suspended sentence early in the process—which it typically does for low-level, first-time offenders—your defence lawyer is plea bargaining from a relatively strong position as they seek to negate the “criminal” component of a conviction.

Avenues for Negating the Criminal Record

Even if a suspended sentence appears to be the most favourable offer from the Crown, a skilled criminal defence lawyer will strive to secure better terms and has several options for pursuing them. The type of charges, public harm arising from the offence, defendant’s background, the relationship between the victim(s) and defendant, the strength of the Crown’s case, and which Crown prosecutor is assigned to the case can play a role in the plea bargaining. If the offence involved limited public harm, no violence, and you have a steady job and no criminal background, your lawyer is in a strong position to seek leniency from the Crown because a criminal conviction provides limited apparent benefit to the public good.

The Crown’s willingness to grant leniency can be influenced by the following mitigating factors relevant to the defendant:

  • The lack of a prior record or negative contacts with police.
  • The need to raise and/or support a family or children.
  • Gainful employment.
  • Work or family obligations that require travel to the U.S.
  • A solid education.
  • Good character reference letters from the defendant’s community.
  • Current or past medical issues.
  • Recent traumas, such as a death in the family.
  • Having recently been the victim of a serious crime.

The defendant can offer further mitigating factors by proactively displaying remorse for their involvement in the criminal act. This can be shown by:

  • Paying pre-trial restitution for any damages caused by the offence.
  • Offering letters of apology to any victims.
  • Performance of upfront community service.
  • Financial donation or volunteer work for a charity.
  • If relevant, attending pre-trial therapy or counselling sessions for drug/alcohol abuse or anger management.

All these potential mitigating factors can help your defence lawyer make a stronger case for leniency during plea bargaining negotiations. If the Crown has already offered a suspended sentence, these factors may convince it to go further by reducing the charges to non-criminal or offering an absolute or conditional discharge .

Know also that the Crown is not the ultimate arbitrator of your sentence. Your trial judge has the discretion to hand down a sentence they feel serves justice and the public good. If Crown prosecutors hold firm on a suspended sentence or other plea deal arrangement, your defence lawyer may be able to convince the judge that your circumstances deserve more leniency.

Avoid a Criminal Record with the Experts at Mass Tsang

If you’ve been arrested for a criminal offence, the services of a competent criminal defence lawyer offer you the best chances for securing a positive outcome and avoiding a criminal record. The defence lawyers of Mass Tsang have decades of experience negotiating or otherwise strategizing criminal defences that ensure positive results for our clients. To secure a positive outcome from your criminal charges in the Greater Toronto Area, contact us today for a free consultation.

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