C. Pleas

Author:Steve Coughlan
Profession:Professor of Law. Dalhousie University

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The pleas available to an accused charged with an offence are set out in section 606 of the Code. An accused can plead guilty, not guilty, or one of the special pleas provided for in the Code. The special pleas consist of autrefois acquit, autrefois convict, and pardon,98The special pleas really amount to the claim that the matter that the accused is called upon to plead is a matter that has already been dealt with-the accused has previously been acquitted, convicted, or pardoned for the offence in question. There can be confused issues around whether the matter the accused is charged with at this time is the same matter that was dealt with by previous charges. They are, in effect, all manifestations of the rule against multiple convictions. The discussion here will focus only on the pleas of guilty and not guilty.

A plea of guilty amounts to an admission by the accused of performing the physical actions that make up the offence, accompanied by the necessary mental state. It is, in effect, a waiver of the right to a trial.99A court should inquire into a plea of guilty if there is any reason to doubt that the accused understands its effect, but there is no general obligation to do so.100

A plea of not guilty is not a claim of innocence, but is simply a demand that the Crown proves all the elements of the offence and disproves the existence of any defences. Unless a special plea is required, pleading not guilty puts any defence available in issue, including, for

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example, whether the accused is not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.101Where an accused refuses to plead, the judge is to enter a plea of not guilty.102An accused can, with the consent of the Crown, enter a plea of guilty to some other offence arising out of the same transaction, whether it is an included offence or not. If the court accepts the plea, the accused will be found not guilty of the offence originally charged.103

An accused can later withdraw a guilty plea if "there are valid grounds for his being permitted to do so,"104a category the Court has consciously not defined exhaustively. An accused cannot withdraw a plea because the judge rejects a joint sentencing submission, for example, because a co-accused has subsequently been acquitted of the offence, or because the Crown makes a subsequent application to have the accused declared a dangerous offender.105Rather, some special circumstance must be in place that suggests the guilty plea should not be accepted at face value as a legitimate concession of guilt. So, for example, if the accused has been pressured by counsel into entering a guilty plea, the accused might successfully withdraw the plea.106Similarly, a plea might be withdrawn if it is shown that the accused who wished to plead not guilty actually pled guilty in order to obtain an immediate fine rather than spend a week in custody awaiting trial, or to avoid a more serious charge being laid (first, rather than second-degree murder, for example).107In Hanemaayer an accused who voluntarily entered a guilty plea mid-trial (because he was convinced of the inevitability of his conviction and had the knowledge he could receive a lighter sentence by pleading guilty) was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea when evidence proving that another person had committed the

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offence came to light.108However, the mere fact that an accused feels pressure does not mean that the plea was not voluntary: feeling pressure is...

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