The maximum penalty under the Canadian Criminal Code is life imprisonment. But even once the Judge reads the sentence options for appeals or reviews may remain. After being sentenced to life imprisonment, these options are usually sought out.
In Canada, a life sentence is rare and is usually reserved for murder. The only convictions with mandatory life sentences are first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and high treason.
Crimes Eligible for Life Imprisonment
Both first-degree murder and high treason have a sentence of life imprisonment with full parole ineligibility for 25 years. In convictions for multiple murders, the parole ineligibility period may be extended further.
Second-degree murder charges also carry a mandatory life sentence. However, the period for parole ineligibility can range from 10 to 25 years.
Those are the only offences that carry a mandatory life sentence. However, there are several other offences that are eligible for life imprisonment.
These are largely relegated to offences which are related to murder, such as conspiracy to commit murder. Or involve causing death, or the possibility of death, such as causing death by criminal negligence or endangering the safety of an aircraft.
These typically have shorter parole periods, ranging from 7 to 25 years. Although there is no guarantee of parole. In most cases, outside of terrorism-related activities, sentencing practices attempt to avoid giving life imprisonment.
An option available when receiving a life sentence is to pursue an appeal. An appeal is always made to a court higher than the court than imposed the conviction and sentence. The appeal process can only be initiated once the sentence is imposed.
The Court of Appeal does not hear an appeal for every case. Nor does it re-hear the case or start a new trial. Instead, it must show that a factual or legal error was made that affected the outcome of the trial.
If all appeals are exhausted or are unavailable, you can apply for a Ministerial Review or a Faint Hope Clause.
Faint Hope Clause
The Faint Hope Clause is now only available to people were sentenced prior to December 2nd, 2011. The goal of the Faint Hope Clause is not to overturn a conviction. Instead, the purpose is to reduce the period of parole ineligibility.
To apply for this clause, you must have a period of ineligibility for over 15 years. The Faint Hope Clause is designed more for people who are already incarcerated than for someone who was recently sentenced.
The process reviews the records from the first 15 years of incarceration. As well as any updates to the forensic reports from the initial crime.
If successful, the clause can reduce the period of parole ineligibility. However, there is no guarantee parole will be granted.
Application for Ministerial Review
Unlike the Faint Hope Clause, an application for Ministerial Review is an attempt to overturn the conviction. It is only available after exhausting all other appeal options. The application needs to show that the subject was convicted in an unfair trial.
A successful application requires new evidence that demonstrates a miscarriage of justice occurred. New DNA evidence is one of the more effective attempts at a Ministerial Review. However, even with DNA, success is rare in this process.
Even if the review is successful the conviction is not automatically overturned. Instead, the Minister will either order a new trial or refer it to the Court of Appeal.
This appeal requires a lot of preparation. There is a low success rate without significant investigation and review.
Toronto Criminal Defence Lawyer
If you or a loved one are facing a potential life sentence, you need a criminal lawyer. They understand the process and will provide you with a realistic view of your possible options and outcomes.
William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence lawyer with experience in defence and appeals. Contact Jaksa today for a consultation.