Do First Time Offenders Go to Jail?

June 6, 2019

Severity of Crime

Generally, the type and nature of a crime have a significant impact on the likelihood of incarceration. A first time offenders with no criminal history and facing charges for a non-violent crime is less likely to receive jail time.

More severe and/or violent crimes are more likely to result in jail time. If the perceived risk to the community outweighs the potential benefits of a prison alternative, jail time is likely.

As well, there are some offences that come with a mandatory sentence of imprisonment.

Types of Offences With Automatic Jail Time in Canada

First time offenders cannot just assume automatic leniency with the court. Although they tend to face more favourable sentencing, there is always a possibility of imprisonment. As well, any conviction will impact your personal life. There are four types of sentences with mandatory jail time in Canada:

1. Mandatory Life Sentence

For crimes that carry a mandatory life sentence, the accused will face imprisonment if convicted. This is true regardless of whether it is their first offence. This applies to severe offences such as 1st-degree murder, 2nd-degree murder, and treason.

2. Sentence Enhancements

Sentence enhancements – or “specs” – can also result in mandatory prison sentences. This occurs where there is an enhancement to the charges. For mandatory imprisonment, the enhancement usually involves a firearm.

For example, consider assault charges. Sexual assault does not carry a mandatory prison sentence. However, sexual assault with a weapon has a minimum sentence of 5 years.

It’s not uncommon for the Crown to leverage sentence enhancements in plea negotiations. They may offer to withdraw, stay, or dismiss specs in exchange for a guilty plea. This agreement may mean avoiding or reducing jail time.

3. Repeat Offences

For a first time offence, these do not apply. However, a conviction can leave you vulnerable to mandatory prison sentencing if you face another conviction later. Getting the aid of a criminal defence lawyer on your first offence can help prevent imprisonment at a later date.

The most common repeat offences with mandatory prison sentences in Toronto are for DUI charges or possession of weapons without a licence.

4. Hybrid Sentences

For a hybrid offence, the Crown decides whether to proceed as a summary or indictable offence. There is no mandatory minimum sentencing for summary offences. However indictable convictions, particularly those involving firearms, may have minimum prison sentences.

Consequences of a Conviction for First Time Offenders

If you receive a conviction on any offence, you will receive a criminal record. Having a criminal record will affect your future. While first-time offenders may experience some leniency they forfeit that courtesy after the first conviction. Any future offences will carry a higher likelihood of imprisonment and harsher charges.

As well, a criminal record will directly impact your professional life. If you spend time in prison you will likely lose your job. Without this income, you can lose your home and other assets. Once you have a record, finding work can be difficult. Some jobs do not allow people with a criminal record, and many employers have a prejudice against priors.

Your personal life can also change as a result of a conviction. You can lose certain liberties, face travel restrictions, and may even lose custody of children.

Hire A Criminal Defence Lawyer for a First Time Offence

The potential consequences of a conviction will impact your life, even after the sentence is complete. It’s important to hire a criminal defence lawyer for a first-time offence.

William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence attorney with a wealth of experience. He strives to achieve the best possible outcome for his clients. Contact Jaksa today for a consultation.


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