The Importance of Voluntary Guilty Pleas

R. v. Krzehlik, a decision released by the Ontario Court of Appeal on March 16, 2015, is a cautionary tale for any person who is arrested and detained pending a show-cause bail hearing.

In this case, the accused pleaded guilty to assaulting his spouse using a weapon, and a separate count of assaulting his son. He was arrested and held by the police overnight, and taken to court in the morning for a bail hearing. He consulted with a duty counsel, who sought to have him released before a Justice of the Peace, with the bail supervision program governing his release. These programs exist in almost every jurisdiction and the purpose of them is to act in place of a surety for a person charged with a criminal offence(s) who does not have a relative or friend who can perform that role. The JP indicated that he would not release the accused utilizing the bail supervision program. Rather, the accused would have to find a surety, who could attend at a bail hearing and who would be prepared to govern the conduct of the accused whilst on bail. Frequently, the accused is also obligated to live with the surety during the bail period, which remains in effect until the charges have been adjudicated by a court. Accordingly, the matter was adjourned so that the accused could attempt to obtain a relative or friend to act as surety. He, of course, was remanded in custody for the weekend.

Upon his return to court on Monday, having no success securing a surety and, feeling exasperated, stressed, and intimidated from the experience of a weekend in jail, the accused plead guilty to both offences. He was 65 years of age and had no previous record. He was sentenced to a further period of custody, to be served on an intermittent basis.

On appeal, the accused sought to strike the findings of guilt, on the basis that he was confused about his rights, intimidated, and that his pleas were equivocal.

The Court of Appeal denied the appeal and found that the plea comprehension inquiry conducted by the sentencing justice was comprehensive enough to make the guilty pleas informed and voluntary. The Justice had inquired of the accused as to whether he was accepting the “gist” of the allegations against him. Although the accused attempted to qualify the facts, he essentially agreed with the nature of the allegations.

Accused persons detained in custody and awaiting bail hearings are often presented with this situation. They face the pressure of losing employment, relationships and housing if they are not released from custody promptly. Nonetheless, when pleading guilty, they must understand that they are accepting responsibility for the crime alleged and the facts establishing the act and mens rea (intention to commit the offence). They cannot plead guilty because it is the most expeditious method of being released, and then expect a court to second guess their intention.