False Guilty Pleas in Canada

September 8, 2020

Innocent people do accept false guilty pleas. Approximately 90% of all criminal cases in Canada are resolved prior to going to trial with plea bargains or withdrawals by the Crown. The potential for false guilty pleas is a significant concern as, of the 450,000 accused in Canada’s criminal justice system, the majority plead guilty.

Even a small percentage being false guilty pleas could mean thousands of innocent people incarcerated or living with a criminal record.

Experts estimate that false guilty pleas are increasing in Canada, and that they are largely going undetected.

Difference Between False Guilty Pleas & False Confessions

A false guilty plea is similar but altogether different from a false confession. False confessions are evidence gathered when someone false admits to a crime. A false guilty plea is not evidence. Instead, the plea is a formal agreement to a judgement of guilt.

Generally, a false confession occurs during a police interrogation. Whereas, a false guilty plea occurs during, or after, meetings with defence counsel or resolution discussions.

Although both are an acknowledgment of guilt, only a false guilty plea results in a definite guilty judgement.

Who is Targeted?

Serious crimes, such as homicide and sexual assault, get the most attention in regards to both false guilty pleas and false confessions. Less serious crimes, however, are likely just as common, if not more. 

In a minor offence, a false plea can help resolve the matter quickly, and the lesser sentencing gives less reason to pursue a wrongful conviction. As such, it is impossible to measure how often less serious crimes are resolved by false guilty pleas.

A person’s background or personal history can influence the likelihood of them accepting a false plea. In particular, marginalized sub-populations are at the greatest risk of entering false guilty pleas.

The subpopulation disproportionately affected include:

  • Youth
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Mental health
  • Poverty
  • Visible Minorities
  • People who have been previously incarcerated

Why Some Innocent People Plead Guilty

There are multiple reasons why people enter false guilty pleas. Often, it is the result of trying to end the matter as quickly as possible or in an effort to avoid possible jail time. As well, people who do not feel as if they can beat the charges may accept a plea bargain in order to get more favourable sentencing.

In some instances, people who have already been institutionalized are more comfortable going back into the system. As well, they may not have as much concern over avoiding a criminal record. Other times ending the onerous bail conditions is the motive for pleading guilty. 

Mental health can often play a role, making the role of lawyers and judges in preventing false pleas especially important.

Lawyers’ and Judges’ Responsibility

It is the responsibility of lawyers and judges alike to not allow an innocent person to plead. A criminal lawyer should help prevent their clients from feeling as though there is pressure to enter a false plea, ensure they fully understand their options and repercussions and provide confidence that an innocent person can overcome their charges.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, do not enter a false guilty plea. Maintaining your innocence is the best option to protect your future. Contacting a criminal lawyer helps protect your rights, understand your options, and their potential outcomes.

Contact William Jaksa, Toronto criminal lawyer, today for your consultation.

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