What Happens in Sentencing in Canadian Criminal Trials

What Happens in Sentencing in Canadian Criminal Trials

Sentencing can be one of the most gut-wrenching parts of Canadian criminal trials, and not only for the accused. Sentencing also takes an emotional toll on the families and friends of victims and defendants and the sentencing judge.

The decisions made during sentencing will often have a profound and lasting impact on all of the people involved in the trial, which is why it is so important to get it right.

This article will discuss what happens during sentencing in Canadian criminal trials to help you feel better prepared if this is a situation you or a loved one is facing or if you’re curious about this part of the Canadian criminal trial system.

To learn more about Canadian criminal trials and how they work in Ontario, visit this comprehensive article.

What Happens in Sentencing in Canadian Criminal Trials

A sentencing hearing is typically set a few weeks after the trial ends and the judge handed down the conviction. However, in some cases sentencing can happen on the same day as the conviction.

At sentencing, both the Crown and defence will have an opportunity to present submissions to the judge about what they feel is an appropriate sentence for the offence and offender.

The Crown will tend to argue for a harsher sentence, while the defence will often ask for a more lenient one. However, it is ultimately up to the judge to decide what sentence is appropriate, taking into account all of the submissions made by both sides as well as any other relevant factors.

What the Judge Considers

Sentencing decisions are not made lightly, and judges take into account a number of different factors when making their decision.

Some of the things a Canadian judge may consider when sentencing an offender include the following:

The severity of the crime

This is usually the most critical factor in sentencing, as more serious crimes warrant harsher penalties.

The impact of the crime on the victim

This includes physical, emotional, and financial harm suffered by the victim as a result of the crime.

The offender’s criminal history

If an offender has a previous criminal record, this may be taken into account when sentencing as it shows they are a repeat offender.

The offender’s age and personal circumstances

These factors can help to paint a picture of the offender and their background, which may be relevant to sentencing.

The remorse shown by the offender

If an offender expresses remorse for their actions, this may be considered when sentencing. However, it is not always a deciding factor.

The sentence imposed in similar cases

In order to ensure sentencing is consistent, judges will often look at sentencing decisions made in similar cases.

The need to protect the public from future harm

This is often a key factor in sentencing, as the safety of the public is of paramount importance.

The need to denounce the offence

This includes sending a message to both the offender and society that the type of behaviour is unacceptable.

The need for rehabilitation

If there is a belief the offender can be rehabilitated, this may be taken into account when sentencing.

After considering all of these (and more) factors, the judge will hand down the sentence. Sometimes, the sentence may differ from what either side had asked for.

It is important to remember sentencing is not solely about punishment but about protecting society and ensuring justice is served. With this in mind, sentencing decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. This ensures the sentence fits both the crime and the offender.

Types of Sentences

In Canada, sentencing for criminal offences can take many different forms. The type of sentence imposed will depend on the severity of the crime as well as the offender’s criminal history, and a number of other factors, including the ones described above.

Some of the most common types of sentences handed down by Canadian courts include:


This is a type of sentencing that enables offenders to remain in their community, provided they adhere to certain conditions, instead of going to jail. Probation orders can last for up to three years in Ontario.


Fines are another common type of sentencing, and can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands depending on the severity of the offence.


Imprisonment is often imposed for more serious offences, ranging from a few days to life in jail.

Conditional sentences

A conditional sentence is a sentence served in the community, under certain conditions, instead of in a jail. You might also hear of conditional sentences being called “house arrest.” These sentences are usually imposed for less serious offences.

Absolute and conditional discharges

An absolute discharge is a finding of guilt with no further punishment, while a conditional discharge includes certain conditions that must be met, such as probation. Absolute and conditional discharges are usually only imposed for minor offences. Because they do not result in a conviction, they don’t result in a criminal record either.

As you can see, Canadian courts can impose many different types of sentences. The type of sentence imposed will depend on each case’s specific facts and circumstances.

FAQS About Sentencing in Canadian Criminal Trials

Are victim impact statements used during sentencing?

In some cases, victims of crime may be asked to prepare a victim impact statement. This is a written or oral statement describing how the crime has affected the victim, both emotionally and physically.

Victim impact statements are not always used in sentencing, but when they are, they can play an essential role in the sentencing decision. For example, a victim impact statement may be taken into account if the judge is considering a conditional sentence (a sentence served in the community instead of jail) for the offender.

Victim impact statements can also be used to help support a request for restitution (compensation) from the offender.

What is the harshest sentence in Canada?

The harshest sentence that can be imposed in Canada is a life sentence. A life sentence means the offender will spend the rest of their life in jail, with no chance of parole.

In some cases, an offender may be eligible for parole after serving a certain number of years in jail (this is known as “parole eligibility”). For example, an offender sentenced to life in prison with a 25-year parole eligibility would be able to apply for parole after serving 25 years in jail.

The decision to grant or deny parole in Canada is up to the Parole Board of Canada. It is based on a number of factors, including the severity of the offence and the offender’s criminal history.

If you have been charged with a crime in Canada, it is vital to speak to an Ontario criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you understand the sentencing process and protect your rights throughout the criminal justice system.

If you’re facing criminal charges and you want to give yourself the best chance at a successful outcome, contact the team of expert lawyers at KIVLaw today.