Many people accused of a crime have no idea what the possible outcomes could be to the accusation. That kind of uncertainty can be very scary, apart from the basic fear of punishment or collateral consequences (e.g. employment) that comes with being prosecuted.
Below is the full list of outcomes in the Canadian criminal system.
(1) No charge. This occurs when the Crown prosecutor decides their charging standard isn’t met. Their charging standard is two-pronged:
(a) the Crown must be satisfied approving a charge is in the public interest; and
(b) that it’s more likely than not they can prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt after a trial.
(2) Acquittal. This is a finding of “not guilty” after trial because the Crown is ultimately unable to prove the offence beyond a reasonable doubt;
(3) Charge withdrawal. This is where the Crown decides to withdraw, or undo, an approved charge. Unfortunately, this rarely happens in British Columbia. Instead, if the BC Crown wants to drop charges they enter a stay of proceedings (explained below);
(4) Stay of proceedings. This is the way the Crown drops charges in BC. They enter a stay of proceedings in the court records. A “stay” means they’ve stopped the prosecution. It’s possible for them to reinitiate a prosecution after staying it, but it’s very rare for them to do so;
(5) Alternative measures. This is where an accused’s prosecution is diverted from the courts and sent immediately to Community Corrections (i.e. probation). If the accused is accepted into the program, they complete some requirements that are like mini-probation. If the accused is successful completing the requirements, the Crown enters a stay of proceedings on the charge. The Crown can also divert a case before charging it, in which case no charge ever gets approved if the accused completes the requirements of diversion;
(6) Peace Bond. This is where the accused acknowledges the complainant has a reasonable fear of them, such that the court has a reason to impose conditions on them for up to one year. Technically, a peace bond is a new charge, but it’s not a criminal charge. Peace bonds mostly happen where the Crown agrees to drop a criminal charge if the accused agrees to be bound by a peace bond.
Peace bond conditions can be the same as any condition of probation. Peace bonds don’t involve a finding of guilt by the courts (i.e. the accused doesn’t admit to having committed the criminal offence. Instead, they only acknowledge the complainant’s reasonable fear);
(7) Absolute discharge. This is a sentence of mercy granted by a judge after the accused pleads guilty or is found guilty after trial. Although the accused is guilty, the court doesn’t impose any conditions on them and doesn’t convict them. If an accused isn’t convicted of a crime that means they don’t receive a criminal record. An absolute discharge is like a judge saying “You’re guilty, but I’m not going to punish you. Now you’re free to go”;
(8) Conditional discharge. This is like an absolute discharge, but the judge imposes up to three years of probation on the accused. The accused is guilty, but not convicted;
(9) Suspended sentence. The accused is convicted and the judge imposes up to three years of probation on them. “Suspending” the a sentence is like a judge saying “I’m convicting you but imposing zero days of jail as punishment, and you’ll be on probation for X amount of time” (where “X” is three years or less);
(10) Fine. This is like a suspended sentence, but the judge also orders the accused to pay a certain sum of money to the court by a certain date. Note that this is not like a fine imposed for a traffic violation. It’s a criminal fine, which means failure to pay it can result in jail time. A criminal fine also includes a conviction. Fines are usually only imposed where the offence had a financial element to it;
(11) Conditional sentence. This is a sentence where the judge imposes punitive conditions on the accused, which usually includes some amount of house arrest for some portion of the conditional sentence. The maximum duration is two years less a day, and it can be followed by up to three years of probation;
(12) Intermittent sentence. This is a jail sentence of 90 days or less that the judge allows the offender to serve three days at a time, every week. The accused usually serves an intermittent sentence on weekends, where they’ll go into custody on Friday evening then return on Sunday evening. This allows an offender to maintain employment while they serve their sentence. The offender is on probation on the days when they’re not in jail. An intermittent sentence can include up to three years of probation.
(13) Jail – provincial time. Criminal lawyers refer to jail sentences with “provincial time” as any jail sentence of two years less a day or under. Such jail sentences are served in provincial correctional centres and can be followed by up to three years of probation;
(14) Jail – federal time. Criminal lawyers refer to jail sentences with “federal time” as any jail sentence of two years or more. Such jail sentences are served in federal correctional facilities and can’t include any probation after the jail sentence.
Obviously, it’s the criminal lawyer’s job to get an outcome for their client that’s as high on the above list as possible.