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Toronto Criminal Lawyer Mark Zinck

What is a “Suspended Sentence”?

Practically speaking, a suspended sentence normally means the defendant will serve a period of probation and receive a criminal record (conviction).

A suspended sentence, sometimes referred to as SS on a Crown disclosure screening form, is a disposition that does not involve jail, but is considered a conviction and a criminal record. Normally, individuals who receive a suspended sentence are placed on a period of probation of one to two years and have to abide by certain conditions. The conditions can range from extremely restrictive (curfews, not to use a computer) to nothing more than being of good behavior and will depend of the nature and severity of the offence.

Regardless of the conditions of probation, those who receive suspended sentences will have a criminal record that will show up on all police background checks for employment. They will also have to answer “yes” to having a conviction on employment and immigration applications. For this reason, for those with no prior criminal convictions a suspended sentence is an extremely damaging result.

I received my disclosure. What does “GP SS”, or “GP Suspended Sentence” mean?

GP = guilty plea
SS = suspended sentence (probation + criminal record)


In the Toronto area, when a person attends court for a first appearance, they will normally be handed disclosure which details the evidence the Crown (prosecution) has against them. Depending on the courthouse their case is being heard at, there will be a paper attached to the top or bottom of the disclosure called the Crown Screening Form. This form should indicate whether the Crown intends to elect to proceed summarily (less serious) or by indictment (more serious) and what the Crown will ask for in the event the person agrees to plead guilty without going to trial. If the Crown writes “SS”, suspend, or suspended sentence on this form, this means that if the accused agrees to plead guilty they will not seek to have them go to jail. They are however looking for a criminal record and conviction that will show up on all criminal record checks.

Given that a suspended sentence is a criminal record, for most first time offenders it is not a very good initial position. Fortunately, it is often possible to convince the Crown to agree to drop the charge, or consent to an absolute or conditional discharge (meaning no criminal record or conviction) instead.

How to avoid a suspended sentence criminal record

If you are a first time offender who is facing a suspended sentence, it is essential that you hire a lawyer to try to avoid a criminal record. First, your case needs to be analyzed to determine whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction. If your lawyer can convince the Crown Attorney that the case would not be successful at trial, they will often withdraw the charges or bargain down to an absolute or conditional discharge.

In cases where someone says they directly witnessed the accused utter a threat, assault someone, or damage property, it may be impossible to get the charge dropped for reason of a lack of RPC. This will depend on the severity of the allegation, the accused’s criminal history, the background of the accused, and the accused’s willingness to perform sanctions outside of the justice system to make amends (a deal).

What’s all this stuff about the sentence being “suspended” and the court being able to resentence the offender?

Practically speaking, 99% of the time in Ontario a suspended sentence is simply a fancy way of describing a period of probation and a criminal conviction record. If the individual is alleged to have breached the period of probation in the future, they are often charged with breach of probation (in addition to perhaps new charges) and have a new case against them. It is rare that they would be resentenced on the original charge.

Is a suspended sentence ever a good deal for first time offenders?

If the crime is violent or results in injuries, a suspended sentence may not be a particularly bad screening position as such offences often result in jail or penitentiary sentences. Whether a suspended sentence is good or not for someone with no prior record thus depends on the seriousness of the crime. Some lawyers will beg Crowns to agree to a suspended sentence in cases where the initial position is jail/penitentiary. When a suspended sentence is sought after, a lawyer will often look for a withdrawn charge, or a absolute/conditional discharge for his client.

If I plead not guilty and go to trial, what are the risks?


Just because the Crown Attorney (prosecutor) indicates they will seek a suspended sentence (probation and criminal record) on the disclosure screening form does not mean this would be their position if the defendant chooses to plead not guilty and take the case to a trial. The position on the Crown screening form is what the Crown agrees to ask the trial judge for as a sentence in the event the defendant pleads guilty (GP means Guilty Plea). If the defendant chooses to plead not guilty and take the case to a trial, the Crown will normally seek a more punitive sentence such as a conditional sentence (house arrest), jail, or time in a federal penitentiary of two years or more.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is set up in such a way that encourages defendants to resolve their cases without going to trial. This can sometimes work to the advantage of the accused, but for those who insist on their innocence they are often subject to greater risks. Setting a trial date and pleading not guilty means the accused will normally wait for 8 months to a year or more (in GTA area) for a trial date on restrictive conditions of a criminal undertaking or bail release. Depending on the seriousness of the charge, some accused will have to await their trial date in jail/custody.

Negotiating a deal for a withdrawn charge, or absolute or conditional discharge

Often lawyers are able to convince the Crown to withdraw or drop a charge by demonstrating that the accused is a person of exemplary character and someone who is willing to do things outside of the criminal justice system to make amends with society. Sometimes the Crown prosecutor will agree to no longer ask the judge for a suspended sentence and instead for an absolute or conditional discharge, both of which are not considered criminal records or convictions in Canada.

The seriousness of the allegation, background of the accused, strength of the Crown’s case, and which Crown Attorney your lawyer chooses to deal with are all factors that impact the final decision. We go to great lengths to ensure we deal with the most reasonable and liberal Crowns. Our clients hire us for this reason – we don’t just deal with anyone and do everything in our power to get the prosecution to reduce their position.

The Judge decides what the sentence will be, not the Crown Attorney

Just because the Crown wants a suspended sentence and, despite the best efforts of your lawyer, will not come off their position does not mean you will end up with a criminal record. Your sentence is the decision of the trial judge. It is your lawyer’s job to ensure you stand the greatest chance of avoiding a criminal record before the court. This involves both having you do upfront things to make amends and mitigate your circumstances and presenting you in as favorable and sympathetic a way possible.

Each courthouse in the GTA area functions differently and effective strategies will depend on the location and facts of your case. It is essential your lawyer have significant and recent experience at the exact courthouse your case is being heard at in order to maximize your chance of avoiding a life ruining criminal record.

Suspended sentences for assault charges

For those who have been charged with assault, the Crown will normally seek a suspended sentence in cases that involve little or no bodily harm and do not involve the use of a weapon (for these circumstances the position is usually jail or penitentiary).

In evaluating the seriousness, the relationship between the victim and the accused is also important as cases involving the assault of a stranger are considered worse than ones where the victim and the accused know each other. It is also normal to receive disclosure that indicates suspended sentences for resist arrest type assaults on police officers and security guards even if the allegation is relatively minor (a push, shove, or grab).

Suspended sentences for mischief charges

Mischief, or damage to property charges can lead to a disclosure screening position of suspended sentence (SS). The Crown will usually select this option in cases whether the damage is of a high value or the accused is said to have acted in a very distasteful way. For example, perhaps a door or window is damaged, but the accusation involves the accused using very aggressive or cruel language (calling the property owner a slut, bitch, etc.). While the property damage may be of a relatively low value, the totality of the circumstances may be seen as aggravating and cause the Crown to seek a suspended sentence. If the accused is said to have a history of aggressive or poor behaviour, this may be enough for a suspended sentence position. Often, voice mail and text messages are used to support this if provided to police by the victim or complainant.

We have successfully negotiated deals that allowed our clients’ mischief charges to be dropped that were originally screened for suspended sentence. It is a delicate process, but definitely possible in many cases if the defendant (or their lawyer) handles the case correctly.

Suspended sentences for theft and fraud charges

For those charged with theft or fraud over/under $5000, a suspended sentence will often be sought if the offence involved a breach of trust, such as a theft from an employer. The amount taken is also relevant. While some charges such as shoplifting are often seen as relatively minor, if the amount exceeds $500.00 (and yes $500 – this is not to be confused with the charging distinction of over/under $5000) the Crown will sometimes look for a suspended sentence. It generally easier to convince the Crown, or a trial judge, not to seek a SS/criminal record for property related offences than ones of violence. 

Mitigating factors in suspended sentence cases

What are some personal background factors that can help the accused's case?

Here are some mitigating factors that can be used to convince the Crown Attorney not to ask for, or Trial Judge not to sentence, the accused to a criminal record via a suspended sentence:
  1. Absence of a prior record or contact with police
  2. Employed
  3. Educated
  4. Raising or supporting a family/children
  5. Current or past medical issues
  6. Necessity to travel to the US for family or work
  7. Making amends to society
  8. Letters of appology
  9. Reference letters from the community
  10. Having made a financial donation to charity
  11. Performance of upfront community service hours
  12. Recent traumatic experience such as a death in the family or illness
  13. Accused having been the victim of a crime
  14. Seeing a therapist or counsellor for drug, anger, or alcohol use
  15. The payment of restitution being made prior to the sentencing for crimes involving financial loss
It is your lawyer's job to emphasize these factors to the Crown Attorney (prosecutor) to try to persuade them to no longer seek a criminal record. Your lawyer must know exactly which Crown Attorneys at the courthouse your case is being heard at are most likely to change their position. Talking to the wrong Crown Attorney could result in you being stuck with a difficult position unnecessarily (as they make notes in their file). Sending a student, agent, paralegal, or anyone else who does not have direct experience at your case's courthouse to talk to the Crown could be the difference between you getting a criminal record and you not.

A suspended sentence means a serious, life ruining, criminal record for the accused and as such Mark Zinck personally handles every court appearance in cases of this nature.

What is probation and what does "CSO" mean?

CSO stands for "Community Service Order". CSO is often used to refer to community service even when there is technically no court order in place.

A suspended sentence always includes probation, the terms of which will depend on the nature of the case.

Probation can range from having virtually no conditions at all, to being extremely restrictive. The terms will normally depend on the nature of the charge and the history of the accused. For sexual or violent offences, conditions are often strict and include curfews. For financial crimes, conditions tend to be less onerous. Here are some common conditions associated with probation orders:
  1. Keep the peace and be of good behaviour (included in all probation orders and peace bonds)
  2. Keep in contact with a probation officer (some people are exempt even from this)
  3. Perform a certain number of community service hours (CSO – Community Service Order)
  4. Make restitution to a victim
  5. Attend counseling – often for anger, drugs, and alcohol
  6. Abstain from alcohol or going to places where alcohol is sold (bars, nightclubs)
  7. Avoid contact or communication with the victim
  8. Not to attend at certain places such as the victim’s house, place of employment, or the scene of the crime
  9. Not to leave the province of Ontario
  10. Not to have contact with people under a certain age (often seen in cases involving child porn or child interference)
  11. Not to possess a computer or other device capable of transmitting images (child porn charges)
  12. Not to possess a cell phone (drug and child porn charges)
  13. Not to be within a certain distance of a school, public pool, or other place where children congregate (cases involving child sexual offences: child porn, interference, voyeurism, public indecency)
  14. Curfews: Remain in residence during specific hours (often seen in cases that occur at night and serious offences)
  15. Other clauses giving the probation officer the discretionary power to direct the accused to attend counseling or other treatment

I went to court and my disclosure says suspended sentence. I can’t get a criminal record because I will lose my job or immigration status. What should I do now?

We are often able to convince the Crown to agree to withdraw the charges or agree to an absolute or conditional discharge. Even in cases where the Crown sticks to their position, we have not had one client receive a suspended sentence/criminal record from a judge. While many of our clients have to do some up front work to get such a favourable resolution (donations, community service, counseling), the result is that they avoid a criminal record and as such have no problems with US travel, Canadian immigration, their employment, or their future.

If the Crown wrote suspended sentence on your disclosure screening form you now know the prosecution (government) believes you should have a criminal record. Your case is serious and the employment, travel, and immigration relation consequences attached to a suspended sentence are severe.

Call us at 647-228-5969 to discuss your case and options over the phone for free.



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Mark Zinck
Criminal Defence Attorney
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Please note: Mark Zinck is a paid criminal lawyer. All information provided on this website is of a general nature and should not replace or be relied on as legal advice. Each case is different and legal decisions ought to be made in consultation with a practising lawyer. Your use of this website is governed by our Terms and Conditions.