What’s the Difference Between a Conditional and Absolute Discharge in Canada?
by Joel LaForest, Research Analyst with Pardon Applications of Canada
As residents & citizens of Canada, we strive to ensure our judicial system is as fair and equitable as possible. This is why our courts treat more heinous crimes like assault and manslaughter much more seriously than they do minor offences like possession or driving without insurance.
When arrested and accused of a crime in Canada, convicted criminals are assigned a criminal record. This record remains permanent for as long as the individual is alive unless granted a Record Suspension. However, an individual’s criminal record won’t show any information related to the arrest or conviction when given a discharge. But, did you know that a presiding judge may give two types of discharges?
Below, we explore the difference between a conditional and an absolute discharge in Canada.
What Is A Conditional Discharge?
A conditional discharge is defined as part of the sentence granted by a judge in criminal court, where the conviction will not show on the individual’s record so long as they meet certain predetermined conditions. To receive a conditional discharge, the offender must plead guilty, even though they may not necessarily be convicted of the crime.
A conditional discharge stays on an individual’s criminal record for three years. During this time, they are likely to be sentenced to probation. Should they fail to uphold the conditions of their probation, the courts may revoke the conditional discharge, and the individual will receive an official conviction.
How Conditional Discharges Work
A conditional discharge is usually sentenced to offenders that commit a crime viewed as less severe in the court’s eyes, such as a Summary Offence.
In other words, an individual won’t receive a conditional discharge if convicted or previously convicted of a more serious crime, such as manslaughter or theft over $5,000. To receive a conditional discharge, the offender must also submit certain information to the judge, proving that they deserve the discharge.
In general, whether or not an offender receives a conditional discharge depends on factors, such as the severity of the crime, how prevalent that crime is within the community, the extent of any property damage committed, and whether or not the offender took advantage of another person for personal gain.
What is an Absolute Discharge?
An absolute discharge is usually warranted when an offender has pleaded guilty, but no findings of guilt are made. Unlike a conditional discharge, the individual will not have any conditions to uphold, and there will be no record of arrest or conviction on their permanent record. An absolute discharge only remains on record for one year.
How Absolute Discharges Work
It’s sometimes difficult to get an absolute discharge in Canada because the individual must plead guilty in the first place to receive the discharge.
Offenders stand a good chance of receiving an absolute discharge if:
- There’s no prior criminal record
- They’ve never received a charge for an offence
- They’ve previously received a discharge
Conditional vs. Absolute Discharges in Canada
When it comes to conditional and absolute discharges, there are several differences.
Primarily that, with a conditional discharge, the offender must meet several conditions laid out by the court, including:
- Community service
- Regular meetings with a probation officer
- Fines and restitution
- Targeted treatment (for charges related to addiction or anger management).
On the other hand, when an absolute discharge is given, the offender doesn’t need to meet any court-defined conditions. There will also be no permanent information regarding the arrest on their record.
Lastly, it’s important to note that a conditional discharge can become absolute after the offender successfully meets the conditions of the probation period.
Additional articles: Absolute or Conditional Discharges: What You Need to Know
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About the Author
Joel LaForest is a Research Analyst with Pardon Applications of Canada and the owner of The Hobo Marketing Co., specializing in writing about law, finance, health, and wealth.