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What are the options of a criminal sentence in BC?

Reviewed by
Nov 3, 2021

Getting a sentence after being convicted does not always mean that the accused will go to jail. There are several possibilities in criminal sentencing and each paragraph below explains certain types of sentences judges can order.

A discharge means that the judge finds the accused guilty but lets him or her go free. This usually only happens when the offence is not serious, and the accused has not been in trouble before. An absolute discharge means that the accused has no criminal record. A conditional discharge means that the accused will be on probation, with certain conditions, for a period of time. If the accused follows the rules, he or she is treated as if there were no conviction. The accused will not have a criminal record.

Probation means that the accused has to follow certain conditions that the judge sets. For example, the accused will have to stay out of trouble, report to a probation officer, and follow other rules that the judge has set. The accused is still convicted of the crime, but the sentence is suspended (on hold) while the accused is on a term of probation. A suspended sentence is not a final sentence. If the accused does not follow the probation order, he or she might be sentenced to a breach of probation as well as having the suspended sentence cancelled and being sent to jail.

A judge can order that the accused pay a fine in addition to going to jail or a term of probation. An order for restitution means that the accused must make things right. For example, the accused might have to repair property damage or replace stolen property.

A conditional sentence order means that the accused spends his or her jail time in the community. The sentence must be under 2 years or there is a minimum sentence. It is not available if the accused has committed a very serious crime. The word “conditional” applies to the rules the offender must follow in order to stay out of jail. If the accused does not follow the conditions (rules) that the judge sets, the accused may have to spend the rest of his or her sentence in jail. For example, the accused may be given a sentence, conditional on her not taking drugs for 18 months. If she is found to be taking drugs after trial, she will spend the rest of her 18-month sentence in jail.

The length of a jail sentence varies. If it is a summary conviction offence, the maximum jail sentence is 6 months. If it is an indictable offence, the maximum sentence is 5 years, unless the Criminal Code states that the maximum sentence can be higher.

If an accused is convicted of two crimes, a judge can order that the sentences be served consecutively (one after the other) or concurrently (at the same time).