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How Do Judges Determine Sentences in Criminal Cases?

Judges play an essential role in both Ontario and Canada’s criminal justice system. Their role is to interpret the law, examine criminal evidence and ultimately decide whether or not the accused should be convicted. If they are convicted, it is then up to the judge to decide on the relevant penalty for their crime. With every criminal case being unique, it is the responsibility and duty of the judge to carry out legal proceedings fairly, thoroughly review the evidence presented to them, and ensure that the law is upheld.

In today’s post, What The Law explains how the type of case helps a judge decide the appropriate penalty in a criminal trial.

The Two Types of Criminal Offences

The type of crime is the clear indicator that determines how severe a crime is and helps a judge understand what the appropriate penalties should be. 

There are two general categories that define a criminal offence, these are Summary Offences and Indictable Offences. There is sometimes overlap between these two types of offences, known as a hybrid offence. It is up to the discretion of the Crown Prosecutor to choose the type of offence that they will refer to during prosecution. For example, if this is the accused’s second or repeat offence, they are more likely to be prosecuted for an indictable offence than if the criminal act was done by a first-time offender. 

Summary Offences

A summary offence is sometimes known as a simple offence. These offences are processed ‘summarily’ - meaning quickly and without any additions such as a jury. It is heard by a judge in an Ontario provincial court where they make their decision. Example of summary offences are:

  • Harassment
  • Indecent acts
  • Public exposure 
  • Public weapon possession
  • Theft (under $5000)
  • Trespassing
  • Vandalism

If the criminal act is considered a Summary Offence, the following penalties may be applied under s. 787 of the Criminal Code:

  • A maximum fine of $5000 and/or;
  • Imprisonment of less than two years

Indictable Offences

While summary offences are reserved for minor crimes, indictable offences handle the more serious criminal cases. An indictable offence is typically one that harmed others or posed a significant threat to the public. These cases have no time limit, unlike summary offences, and require more than one step in the legal system, such as a hearing or bail hearing. 

Examples of an indictable offence include:

  • Theft over $5000
  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Fraud
  • Robbery
  • Assault

If a person is convicted of an indictable offence, they should expect a fine of over $5000 and/or a period of imprisonment of up to 25 years without being able to receive parole. The exact size of the penalty will depend on the specific offence, what is mentioned in the Criminal Code, and how severe the criminal act was. 

If the convicted criminal wishes to appeal a judgement for an indictable offence, it will be considered at a Provincial Court of Appeal and potentially taken to the Supreme Court of Canada.

You can learn more about the criminal justice system in Canada here.

Learn More About Ontario’s Criminal Law with What The Law

At What The Law, we question the law, not our clients. We know law might not seem like it is on your side. Our blog aims to improve visibility regarding legal issues in Ontario and provide Ontarians with the knowledge they need to understand our developed but sometimes complicated criminal justice system. 

Looking to learn more about our criminal defence lawyers or need their assistance with a criminal case in Toronto or the Greater Toronto Area? We are more than happy to help. You can get in touch with us and tell us what happened by visiting our contact page here.

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