Whether arrested for nicking a Coffee Crisp candy bar from a corner store or pinching $10,000 in cash from your employer’s unlocked safe, you’ll undoubtedly wonder whether there’s any chance of getting the charges dropped.
If you seek legal help from the Greater Toronto Area criminal defence theft lawyers of Mass Tsang LLP, they will advise you that getting theft charges dropped in Ontario is indeed possible. However, they might also note that the odds of getting them dropped are inversely proportional to the value of the stolen item(s) — that is, less is more.
With limited resources, Crown prosecutors focus their energies on securing convictions against the most serious offences. This makes them inclined to take a more passive approach to lower-tier thefts like shoplifting and theft under $5,000. Thus, if you’re accused of stealing a candy bar, you have a far greater chance of evading trial via dropped charges than if you steal something valued at $5,000 or more.
Theft According to the Criminal Code
Section 322 (1) of Canada’s Criminal Code codifies theft as a criminal offence. The regulatory language is somewhat convoluted, so we won’t repeat it here. Trust us, it covers the basic premise of prohibiting the taking of other people’s property, whether a candy bar or $10,000 in cash.
Perhaps more important are the penalties for theft, which are covered under Section 334 of the Code. Penalties are based on the value of the item(s) stolen, with $5,000 working as a demarcation line. If you’re convicted of stealing $5,000 or more with your thievery, the maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment when charged as an indictable offence. If the value is less than $5,000, the maximum prison term is two years as an indictable offence. Both values carry a maximum sentence of two years if charged as a summary judgment offence.
Factors Influencing the Crown’s Decision to Drop Theft Charges
In determining whether to pursue the prosecution of theft charges and most other criminal offences, Crown prosecutors assess if there is a reasonable prospect for conviction and whether the conviction serves the public interest. The lack of either provides prosecutors with justification to drop charges. However, depending on the circumstances of the case, a prosecutor might not be willing just to drop charges. Instead, a prosecutor might try to negotiate what seems to be a “reasonable” plea deal with the defendant.
Unless an experienced criminal defence lawyer represents you, we suggest you be careful about accepting any plea bargain deals the Crown offers. Skilled defence lawyers can assess the prospects for conviction and the public interest element of your case to determine whether your situation warrants a better plea deal offer or an outright dropping of charges.
The Numbers Game
While Ontario prosecutors are always motivated to secure convictions, they’re overwhelmed. According to the latest “Incident-based crime” report from Statistics Canada, Ontario Police arrested almost 12,000 people for theft under $5,000 and another 466 for stealing over $5,000 in 2022.
There are not enough Ontario Crown prosecutors or courtroom hours available to process that many defendants through criminal trial. Especially since the Supreme Court of Canada’s R. v. Jordan, 2016 SCC 27 decision established an 18-month deadline to initiate most criminal trial proceedings.
From a numbers perspective, Crown prosecutors might be motivated to clear their docket of lower-tier thefts to focus on the more serious thefts over $5,000 and other serious crimes. Thus, if you’re charged with theft under $5,000, you’ll probably have a far easier time getting your charges dropped than if the theft involved $5,000 or more. That said, you can pursue many avenues that might lead to dropped charges.
Situational Elements That Can Influence Dropped Charges
Whether theft over or under $5,000, numerous elements of your situation can help encourage the Crown to drop theft charges. These include:
Lack of a criminal record.
No previous arrests for theft or fraud.
You’ve made efforts to provide restitution to the victim.
You’re represented by an experienced defence lawyer.
The last element can be a deciding factor because it lets the Crown know you won’t go down without a fight. Given their workload, they might not be willing to expend the resources needed to rebut the challenge over what could become multiple courtroom rounds. Again, if you’ve been charged with theft over $5,000, prosecutors will not likely give in without a more concerted defensive effort. Other factors that decrease the Crown’s likelihood of dropping charges include:
The theft committed with violence or aggression (of course, in this case, you are likely facing other criminal charges, and the successful dropping of any or all of them will undoubtedly prove to be an intricate plea bargain dance).
The theft was committed when you were in a position of trust — public interest calls for prosecutorial aggression in such cases.
You have a criminal record, which is especially troublesome if it suggests a propensity to steal.
You committed the theft with others in an organized, planned fashion — the Crown frowns on conspiracies.
Reasonable Doubt is in Your Favour
Whether you’re accused of stealing a candy bar or $10,000, the Crown must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the offence to secure a conviction. This threshold requires clear-cut evidence and a believable police description of how the crime was committed. Skilled criminal defence lawyers can uncover flaws with both to convince the Crown they can raise enough doubt at trial to scuttle their case. When this is successfully presented to prosecutors pretrial, it makes them far more willing to drop charges or, at the least, agree to a favourable plea bargain.
Let the Experts at Mass Tsang Challenge Your Theft Charges
An overloaded court docket and tight court deadlines may enhance your odds of securing dropped charges in your theft case but don’t take a chance by trying to convince prosecutors of this on your own. The GTA criminal defence team at Mass Tsang has decades-long experience negotiating with Ontario Crown prosecutors. We strive to encourage them to drop theft charges or negotiate other favourable resolutions as warranted. And, when necessary, we’ll mount a bulldog challenge to the charges at trial. To learn more about how we help our Toronto-area clients fight theft charges, contact us for a free consultation.