Sentencing Factors Relating to the Criminal Proceedings
|This page was last substantively updated or reviewed January 2021. (Rev. # 78940)|
A guilty plea is a major mitigating factor.
- Reasons for Mitigation
A guilty plea is a mitigating factor in a number of respects:
- it is evidence of remorse ,
- it is a sign of greater chance at rehabilitation.
- it saves the justice system resources where a trial is not needed
- it excuses victims from the stress of having to testify and reliving the horrors of the events;
- it spares victims and their family from the uncertainty of a trial.
Frequently a guilty plea is a product of negotiations with the Crown where another charge may be withdrawn or a lighter recommendation will be made in exchange for the guilty plea.
- Not Guaranteed Mitigation
The offender is not entitled to a sentence reduction simply for pleading guilty but rather it is within the discretion of the judge to account for a guilty plea in sentencing.
The sentencing judge can consider whether the guilty plea was simply "a recognition of the inevitable" as revealed by the absence of a defence to the charges or compelling and uncontradicted evidence.
Where the victim still is forced to testify at the sentencing, the mitigation should not be based on conservation of judicial resources or giving a degree of finality to the complainant.
The amount of credit given for a guilty plea it not fixed as it can mitigate in several different ways. It has been suggested however that it can often lead to a reduction of sentence by one-third.
- Offer of Lesser Plea
The mere offer to plead to a lesser included offence does not amount to a factor of mitigation.
- Timing of Plea
A guilty plea during trial may still deserve mitigation on sentence.
- Lack of Guilty Plea Not Aggravating
A lack of guilty plea is not an aggravating factor. However, related to a lack of a guilty plea, if the accused was convicted after trial where testimony of the accused was determined to be false, the judge may consider that as aggravating.
R v Holder, 1998 CanLII 14962 (ONSC), 21 CR (5th) 277 (Ont. SCJ), per Hill J at 281-2
R v Beier, 1995 CanLII 681 (ON CA),  OJ No 2552 (CA), per curiam, at para 2
R v Sawchyn, 1981 ABCA 173 (CanLII), 60 CCC (2d) 200, per Laycraft JA at 210
R v Gardiner, 1982 CanLII 30 (SCC),  2 SCR 368, per Dickson J (4:3)
R v Fegan, 1993 CanLII 8607 (ON CA), 80 CCC (3d) 356, per Finlayson JA (3:0) at 360–61, 13 OR (3d) 88
R v Ticne, 2009 BCCA 191 (CanLII), 269 BCAC 308, per Mackenzie JA (2:1), at para 23 (“In MacMillan Bloedel v Brown (1994), ... , Chief Justice McEachern, in recognizing that a guilty plea will generally be deserving of some credit, noted that such a plea not only obviates the need for a trial, but also saves the public the expense associated with taking a matter to trial: at 165, 166. It has also been recognized that a guilty plea can be indicative of remorse, and of the fact that the offender takes responsibility for his or her actions”)
R v Wisniewski, (1975) 29 CRNS 342 (Ont.)(*no CanLII links)
R v Randhawa, 2007 BCCA 598 (CanLII), 249 BCAC 87, per Hall JA, at para 7
R v Johnson and Tremayne,  4 CCC 64(*no CanLII links)
, per Gale CJ at 67
Randhawa, ibid., at para 7
Ticne, supra, at para 23
R v Faulds et al., et al., 1994 CanLII 770 (ON CA), 20 OR (3d) 13, per curiam (3:0), at p. 17
R v Santos (J.), 67 OAC 270 (CA)(*no CanLII links) at 270-271
Randhawa, supra, at para 7
Randhawa, supra, at para 7
Ticne, supra, at para 23
- R v Roberts, 1998 CanLII 2643 (ON CA),  OJ No 461 (CA), per curiam, at para 6
- R v FHL, 2018 ONCA 83 (CanLII), 360 CCC (3d) 189, per Epstein JA (3:0), at para 22
Faulds, supra at 14 and 17 ("[t]he effect of a guilty plea in setting the appropriate sentence will vary with the circumstances of each case. In some cases, a guilty plea is a demonstration of remorse and a positive first step towards rehabilitation. In other cases, a guilty plea is simply a recognition of the inevitable")
R v Lake, 2008 ABCA 204 (CanLII), 429 AR 398, per Watson JA, at para 12 (“its significance as [a mitigating] factor is variable”)
R v Carreira, 2015 ONCA 639 (CanLII), 337 OAC 396, per Epstein JA, at para 15
FHL, supra, at paras 22 to 23
FHL, supra, at para 23 ("the appellant chose to test the Crown’s evidence relating to the more aggravating aspects of his case. As a result, [the victim] was made to relive the assaults in her testimony and to undergo cross-examination designed to impugn her credibility. The guilty plea, therefore, did not conserve judicial resources or provide a degree of finality to the complainant.")
- R v Conlon, 2011 ABPC 259 (CanLII), 517 AR 365, per Daniel J
R v Shyback, 2018 ABCA 331 (CanLII), per curiam, at para 26 (“the law is clear that it is not mitigating for an accused to offer to plead guilty to a lesser included offence if the accused is ultimately convicted of the offence as charged. So, for example, an offer by an accused charged with second degree murder to plead guilty to manslaughter is not mitigating if the accused is subsequently convicted of second degree murder:...")
R v Ryan, 2015 ABCA 286 (CanLII), 607 AR 47, per Picard JA, at paras 28 to 33
R v Patterson, 1998 CanLII 2154 (ON CA),  OJ No 937 (CA), per curiam, at para 1
R v Pitkeathly, 1994 CanLII 222 (ON CA), 29 CR (4th) 182, per curiam at 184-5
R v T(R), 1992 CanLII 2834 (ON CA), 17 CR (4th) 247, per Doherty JA at 263
R v Mann, 2010 ONCA 342 (CanLII), 261 OAC 379, per MacPherson JA (3:0), at para 21
R v Garofoli et al., 1988 CanLII 3270 (ON CA), 41 CCC (3d) 97, per Martin JA at 153 aff'd on other issue at 1990 CanLII 52 (SCC), per Sopinka J
- R v Vickers, 1998 CanLII 14982 (BC CA), 105 BCAC 42, per Esson JA (3:0)
Conduct During Trial
Though not the same as a guilty plea, the making of admissions during trial can be considered as a mitigating factor.
A finding that the accused lied in his testimony cannot be used as an aggravating factor to sentence. However, it can be used to establish that the accused has "demonstrate[d] a lack of insight into the gravity and seriousness of his crimes".
R v Davis, 2012 ONSC 6486 (CanLII), per Spies J, at para 34
R v White, 2008 CanLII 58421 (ONSC),  OJ No 4511 (ONSC), per Spies J, at para 21 ("Although not the same as a guilty pleas, I do find these significant admissions are a mitigating factor"
R v Bradley, 2008 ONCA 179 (CanLII),  OJ No 955, per curiam, at paras 15 and 16
R v Kozy, 1990 CanLII 2625 (ON CA),  OJ No 1586 (CA), per Carthy JA
R v Bani-Naiem, 2010 ONSC 1890 (CanLII),  OJ No 1234, per MacDonnell J, at para 13
- Bani-Naiem, ibid., at para 13
Strict Bail Conditions
Delay between the date of the offence and sentence is not usually a reason for mitigation. If the delay is due to flight of the accused from the jurisdiction he is not entitled to any benefit from the passage of time. 
Where the breach of s. 11(b) rights to a trial in a reasonable time is insufficient to warrant a stay of proceedings, the delay can still be a mitigating factor on sentence in limited circumstances. This will also apply to circumstances where delay is caused by appeal.
Courts are reluctant to give sentence credit on this bais, however.
Dated offences, such as historical sexual assault, do not warrant a significant reduction on penalty simply due to the time that has passed since the offence as the magnitude of the offence and degree of culpability remains the same.
On serious offences, the passage of time between the offence and sentence does not reduce the need for denunciation or deterrence.
Other factors in delay to consider include:
- the effect of delay on sentencing is a case‑specific inquiry
- deliberate acts to evade detection by the authorities, whether flight or contribution to delayed complaint tend to weigh against assigning mitigating impact to the fact of delay
- reform and rehabilitation during the intervening period tend to eliminate the prospect of recidivism and to nullify the need for specific deterrence to be reflected in the court's disposition
- certain very serious crimes require sentences with measures of general deterrence and denunciation regardless of the offender's lengthy crime‑free existence subsequent to the crime(s)
- objectively speaking, taking into account delay, the court's disposition should not be seen as a reward or benefit eliminating or depreciating the concept of proportionate punishment.
R v Jansons, 2008 YKCA 15 (CanLII), 260 BCAC 254, per Kirkpatrick JA
R v McAulay, 1987 ABCA 44 (CanLII), 78 AR 142, per Kerans JA
R v Bosley, 1992 CanLII 2838 (ON CA), 18 CR (4th) 347, per Doherty JA, at p. 358 ("... excessive delay which causes prolonged uncertainty for the appellant but does not reach constitutional limits can be taken into consideration as a factor in mitigation of sentence")
R v Leaver, 1996 CanLII 10223 (ON CA), 3 CR (5th) 138 (ONCA), per curiam
R v Dwyer,  OJ 3598 (ONSC)(*no CanLII links)
R v Spencer, 2003 CanLII 36890 (ONSC),  OJ 10 (ONSC), per Mossip J
R v Morris, 2018 BCSC 803 (CanLII), per Sharma J, at paras 35 to 39
R v Volk, 2018 BCPC 58 (CanLII), per Koturbash J, at para 27
R v Schertzer, 2015 ONCA 259 (CanLII), 325 CCC (3d) 202, per Benotto JA, at para 129
R v Legerton, 2015 ABQB 268 (CanLII), 604 AR 373, per Yamauchi J, at para 69
R v TMB, 2013 ONSC 4019 (CanLII), 299 CCC (3d) 493, per Code J, at para 74 (“ It is settled law that delays in trial proceedings and delays during the appeal period, although within constitutional norms, can have a mitigating effect on sentence. ... . The substantial delays in this case have undoubtedly caused ongoing uncertainty for B. and, equally significantly, if he was now to serve an eight month custodial sentence and likely lose his job, at age 59, there would be additional hardship in attempting to re-enter the job market at age 60.“)
R v Sheng, 2010 ONCA 296 (CanLII), 254 CCC (3d) 153, per Laskin JA, at para 60
R v Viccars, 2010 ABPC 351 (CanLII), DTC 5184, per Fradsham J, at para 62
Right to a Trial Within a Reasonable Time
TMB, supra, at paras 73 to 75
R v Williams, 2009 244 CCC (3d) 153(*no CanLII links) , at paras 29 to 32
Sheng, supra, at para 60
R v Boucher, 2004 CanLII 17719 (ON CA), 186 CCC (3d) 479, per Simmons JA, at para 33
R v Symes, 1989 CanLII 7173 (ON CA), 49 CCC (3d) 81, per Goodman JA, at paras 96 to 97
R v Glykis, 1995 CanLII 1277 (ON CA), , 41 CR (4th) 310 (ONCA), per Dubin CJ (3:0)
- R v Archibald, 2012 ABCA 202 (CanLII), 557 WAC 188, per curiam (3:0) , at para 13
- R v Partridge, 2005 NSCA 159 (CanLII), 206 CCC (3d) 87, per Bateman JA (3:0)
- R v Critton, 2002 CanLII 3240 (ONSC),  OJ No 2594 (ONSC), per Hill J, at para 76
Section 719(3.1)—as it existed prior to December 2018—consists of amendments from 2010 where the practice of giving 2:1 credits was significantly limited. Certain judges have given 1.5:1 credit where warranted for loss of remission.
The judge cannot deny pre-trial custody credit to a sentence simply because of the nature his record.
It is an error of law to "rely on pretrial publicity to determine whether the need for general deterrence has been satisfied".
Courts should exercise caution against permitting "publicity to substitute for punishment". However, publicity does constitute a "collateral consequence" and so are relevant in determining an "individualized" sentence. But where the consequence is "inevitable", the mitigation is "greatly diminished".
- R v Joseph, 2020 ONCA 733 (CanLII), per curiam, at paras 115 to 122
R v Eliasson, 2021 ABCA 188 (CanLII), per curiam, at para 19
R v Zentner, 2012 ABCA 332 (CanLII), 294 CCC (3d) 174, per curiam, at para 49
Eliasson, supra, at para 19 ("the adverse effects of publicity are a "collateral consequence" as defined in Suter and are relevant, if at all, in determining how the individual circumstances of the offence and the offender affect the appropriate "individualized" sentence")
Eliasson, supra, at para 19 ("As a matter of principle, the mitigating force of collateral circumstances that are "almost inevitable" is "greatly diminished"")
Joseph, supra, at para 133
Suter at para 49
Zentner, supra at para 43
Where the offender is likely to face substantial civil liability and he is not otherwise impecunious, then this should be a factor in sentence.