When clients charged with fraud consult with the skilled criminal defence lawyers of the Greater Toronto Area’s Mass Tsang LLP, one of the first questions they ask is, “Can we get their fraud charges dropped?”
Because the answer depends on numerous variables, we cannot initially provide a distinct “yes” or “no” response. However, we can inform our fraud clients that over the past decade, almost half of the fraud cases brought before Ontario courts have been withdrawn or stayed. Additionally, research suggests that Crown prosecutors lack motivation to aggressively pursue fraud cases despite a massive increase in fraud incidents reported to police.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on with our court system relating to fraud and then examine tactics that can help enhance the likelihood of dropped fraud charges in Ontario.
What is Fraud?
Fraud can best be defined as “theft by deceit” and is codified as a criminal act by Section 380(1) of Canada’s Criminal Code. Given that deception can be used in so many different ways to commit theft, there are numerous types of fraud, including:
Whatever the fraud type, the maximum penalties upon conviction are 14 years imprisonment when charged as an indictable offence and two years imprisonment when charged as a summary conviction offence. Given the potential severe penalties, anyone accused of fraud should secure the services of an experienced fraud lawyer despite the Crown’s apparent propensity to drop charges. To learn more about criminal fraud charges, check out our article, “What is Considered Fraud in Canada?”
Why the Crown Seems Prone to Drop Fraud Charges?
According to a recent CBC investigative report and Statistics Canada data, the number of annual fraud reports to Ontario police soared from about 31,000 in 2010, to an all-time high topping 55,000 by 2019, before dropping to about 51,000 in 2021. Meanwhile, the number of police investigations leading to charges has averaged around 7,000 per year over the decade but declined to about 5,000 in 2021.
Of those charged with fraud in Ontario since 2010, nearly half have had their charges withdrawn or stayed. And the number of fraud prosecutions that have led to a decision in court has plummeted by 65.3%, from just under 7,500 in 2010 to just over 2,600 in 2021. In that year, the number of withdrawn/stayed charges outnumbered the number of fraud convictions for the first time.
In explaining the reasons for the numbers, an Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson said the “Crown screens every charge to determine whether there’s a reasonable prospect of conviction and whether the prosecution is in the public interest.” International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German told the CBC that lax fraud enforcement by police and the courts was caused by the resource-heavy nature of fraud investigations and prosecutions and a “lack of specialized expertise.” He also noted that police and the Crown needed to prioritize violent crime due to limited justice system capacity and significant court backlogs.
How Your Fraud Lawyer Can Encourage the Crown to Drop Charges
With the Crown’s apparent lack of motivation to pursue fraud charges in court, several factors can improve the likelihood of getting the charges dropped. A competent criminal defence fraud lawyer will examine all elements of the charges to determine the best strategy for convincing the Crown to withdraw or stay them. Primary factors that can help a defence lawyer successfully sway the Crown to drop fraud charges include:
The charges are lower level “fraud under $5,000.”
Lack of a criminal record.
No previous arrests for fraud or theft.
The defendant has provided or offered restitution to the victim.
There is evidence that the fraud may not have been intentional.
Prosecuting the case will require extensive court resources.
A conviction would provide limited benefit to the public interest.
Last, most fraud cases are inherently complex. To secure a conviction, the Crown needs clear-cut evidence to support the police narrative about how the offence was committed. If the Crown’s evidence seems weak and/or the narrative is confusing, a skilled defence lawyer can convince prosecutors that they don’t stand a chance in court. A conviction must be based on the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and competent defence lawyers are experts at raising reasonable doubt. When confronted with reasonable doubts about the evidence pre-trial, a prosecutor might decide that they don’t want to risk losing on that basis during trial.
What if the Crown Won’t Drop Charges?
If the Crown holds firm on bringing a fraud case to trial, the criminal defence lawyer can still work on securing a plea bargain to reduce charges or mitigate the severity of punishment. Successful plea bargain outcomes include:
Absolute or conditional discharge.
No jail or prison time.
Whether because of plea bargains or not, few fraud convictions in Ontario lead to imprisonment. In fact, according to the CBC investigation, only 32% of the past decade’s fraud convictions resulted in prison or jail time. Of those receiving jail terms, about half served one month or less, while only two percent of convictions led to prison terms of two or more years in prison.
Fight Your Fraud Charges with the Expertise of Mass Tsang
If you’ve been charged with fraud in Ontario, a skilled criminal defence lawyer can help you get the charges dropped or otherwise secure a favourable outcome. While Crown prosecutors may not aggressively prosecute fraud cases in the province, they won’t just drop your case because you ask them to. Rather, the expertise, legal knowledge, and persuasive skills of an experienced criminal defence lawyer can make all the difference in the Crown’s disposition of your fraud charges. Mass Tsang’s GTA criminal defence team has a decades-long track record of strategizing effective defences that lead to dropped charges, other favourable pre-trial outcomes, and positive outcomes at trial. For the optimum resolution of your fraud charges, contact us for a free consultation.