When you plead guilty to an offence in court, you are usually asked a series of questions by a lawyer or the judge to make sure you understand what is happening. Usually, a lawyer or the judge conducts a plea inquiry which follows Section 606(1.1) of the Criminal Code.
Conditions for accepting guilty plea
(1.1) A court may accept a plea of guilty only if it is satisfied that the accused
(a) is making the plea voluntarily; and
(i) that the plea is an admission of the essential elements of the offence,
(ii) the nature and consequences of the plea, and
(iii) that the court is not bound by any agreement made between the accused and the prosecutor.
A guilty plea is still valid when the court or a lawyer does not conduct a plea inquiry. In cases where people refuse to enter a plea, the court will enter a plea of not guilty on the accused person’s behalf.
Courts have interpreted section 606(1.1) and the common law rules for withdrawing guilty pleas in a number of cases throughout Canada. The cases identify factors the court considers when deciding whether to allow a person to withdraw a guilty plea. One factor the court considers is how far the matter has proceeded through the court process. Did the accused person recently plead guilty? Was the plea on the day of a trial? Has the accused person been sentenced already? As a general rule, it assists your application if you are earlier in the process when you apply to withdraw your guilty plea, but this is only one factor.
Judges also look at what was said in court on the day of the guilty plea and look for a plea inquiry. The court reviews the interaction between the accused person and the person doing the plea inquiry looking for equivocation or hesitation by the accused. Generally, a thorough plea inquiry conducted by a Judge where an accused is unequivocal when entering pleas is considered to be strong evidence the plea was valid when entered.
In cases where the accused person has a viable defence to the offence, courts have granted applications to withdraw guilty pleas. The accused person has the onus to prove a viable defence. Some examples of valid defences are self defence and an alibi.
In a recent Manitoba Provincial Court ruling, Provincial Judge Corrin refused to allow an accused person to withdraw his guilty plea.
 I am, moreover, of the firm view that a withdrawal of the guilty plea is not justified in the over-all, broader interests of justice. This is primarily because I firmly believe that [the accused] is deliberately and falsely discrediting his former counsel, Mr. Zaman, in order to manipulate the system and delay matters further in an opportunistic effort to start the process anew. To put it bluntly I find [the accused’s] evidence in this matter to be both suspect as well as lacking in both credibility and reliability.
 I therefore reject [the accused’s] application and order that this matter proceed as expeditiously as possible to sentencing. [R. v. Tchibaga, 2014 MBPC 36]
Judge Corrin quotes a number of other cases and outlines the law with respect to withdrawing a guilty plea.
Click here to read Judge Corrin’s case.
If you are trying to decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty, there are a number of issues you should consider:
- Are you guilty of the elements of the offence? (click here to see more about Elements of the Offence)
- Do you have any legal defences?
- Were your Charter rights breached?
- Does the offence have a mandatory minimum sentence, or what is the maximum sentence?
- Are there consequences outside of the Criminal Code (like Provincial Driving Suspensions)?
- What should you say at the sentencing hearing?
- Are there any legal issues you should pursue prior to pleading guilty?
It is also important to remember that you must waive your solicitor/client privilege when you make an application to withdraw a guilty plea because your previous lawyer usually gives evidence as a witness.
Click here to read Tom Rees & Company’s article about solicitor/client privilege.
Whether to plead guilty or not guilty is a very important decision with consequences that can be serious and long-lasting. It is difficult to withdraw a guilty plea after it is entered in court on the record. It can be difficult to choose if you don’t have all of the information. A lawyer with experience practicing criminal law can assist you to navigate the issues, and help you to make a choice after you have all of the information.
To see other Manitoban cases about withdrawing a guilty plea, check out the links below:
- R. v. Pelletier, 2006 MBQB 126: Application to Withdraw Guilty Plea Denied
- R. v. Manimtim, 2002 MBQB 235: Application to Withdraw Guilty Plea Granted
- R. v. Cabral, 2005 MBQB 60: Application to Withdraw Guilty Plea Denied
Given it is difficult to withdraw a guilty plea, the best idea is to carefully consider your options after reviewing as much information as possible so your choice is informed. You may have options you have not considered. You should talk to a defence lawyer before you proceed with a guilty plea in court because it is difficult to withdraw a plea after the fact.
*note: The information on this page is not legal advice. Contact a lawyer to get legal advice.