3 alternatives to jail time if you're found guilty as charged

November 14, 2014

The judge or a jury has found you guilty as charged. Does that automatically mean jail time? Not always. Here are 3 alternatives you could possibly expect.

3 alternatives to jail time if you're found guilty as charged

Despite what police dramas depict on tv, the law doesn't always want to throw anyone in jail even when it’s a sentencing option. Why? Prison time is expensive and time-consuming for the legal system, so it’s prepared to consider other choices.

Much of it has to do with negotiating in front of judges, who are granted a wide latitude of discretion when choosing a sentence. So who’s expert at negotiating with judges? Lawyers. And here are some of the outcomes they can pursue on your behalf.

1. Alternative measures

This term is used in numerous jurisdictions to refer to cases where Crown Prosecutors recommend that you deal with the matter outside of court. So what's a typical case?  One that involves a relatively minor offence of say, damaging a neighbour’s property, in which you may be asked to do any or all of the following:

  • Acknowledge your guilt and take full responsibility.
  • Display genuine remorse.
  • Apologize to victim(s) and make amends, financially or otherwise.
  • Pledge to not re-offend. If all conditions are met, no criminal record will ensue.
  • Perform a specific number of hours of community service.

2. Discharges

These are similar to the above except that they are outcomes from conviction at court.

Conditional discharges are often sought by lawyers working for people having their first brush with the law.

  • In deciding how to punish you (a range that includes apologies, restitution and community service) your character, reputation and previous record become all-important.
  • Once the specific terms of the condition have been met, the conviction is discharged. Although this means the original conviction won’t appear on your criminal record, the courts and police can refer to it in determining sentencing for future acts.
  • In rarer cases, an absolute discharge is given, meaning the slate is washed entirely clean.

3. Probation

Think of this as the court’s most common form of conditional sentencing.

  • It means admitting to the crime but staying out of jail by conforming to a specific list of restrictions.
  • A probation officer supervises those terms, which could range from house arrest to financial compensation to agreeing to counselling.
  • The probationer may also consent to terms such as not leaving the country and avoiding contact with alcohol, drugs or even certain people.

The bottom line: be on your best behaviour

Whether in the past through sentencing, or as part of a pledge going forward, a key goal of the justice system is to help people understand their mistakes, so they can avoid repeating them. Your ability to sincerely express that intention to a judge and stick with the plan he or she provides you with depends on having an experienced lawyer who understands every step of the process.

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