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Understanding The Implications Of A Guilty Plea

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In a 2016 trial, the Ontario Court of Appeal quashed a man’s previous conviction for dangerous driving on the grounds that the accused man did not fully understand that his driver’s licence would be suspended indefinitely when he pleaded ‘guilty’ to the charge. The court asserted that a guilty plea must be voluntarily, informed and unequivocal, in order to be considered valid. In the trial, R. v. Quick, it was determined that the accused’s guilty plea was voluntarily and unambiguous; however, it was not based on an informed decision. As defined in R. v. T.(1992), in order for an accused person’s plea to be informed, they must understand both the nature of the allegations against them and the consequences of their guilty plea.

The circumstances of the case, R. v. Quick, 2016

A man was charged and convicted of dangerous driving, criminal harassment and breach of a court order, after he repeatedly drove his vehicle too close to a car in which his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend were driving. Following a pre-trial proceeding, defence counsel for the accused told him that the Crown would seek a reformatory term and probation and would also withdraw the other charges against him, if he pleaded guilty to all three charges. Defence counsel also told the man that he would lose his driver’s licence for only one year. Based on this advice, the accused man, Mr. Quick, decided to plead guilty on the three charges.

After being found guilty on all three charges, the accused man was sentenced to imprisonment for six months and three year’s probation (in addition to a two-for-one credit for three months of pre-sentence custody) on the conviction of dangerous driving. He also received a six-month’s concurrent imprisonment sentence for each of the other two convictions. He did not receive a driving suspension under the Criminal Code.

Mr. Quick had not been told by his counsel that, due to his two previous drinking-and-driving convictions, under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA), his driver’s licence would be suspended indefinitely. Under the HTA, a third conviction for a Criminal Code driving offence results in indefinite and automatic driver’s licence suspension. As a result, as soon as he plead guilty in April 2010 to the dangerous driving offence, Mr. Quick lost his driver’s licence indefinitely. However, because the HTA s. 41(3) contains a ten-year limitation period, if the accused had pleaded guilty six months later (on September 26, 2010), which is more than ten years since his last conviction, the indefinite suspension would not have taken effect.

Following his sentencing, Mr. Quick filed an affidavit saying that if he had knowledge that his driver’s licence would be suspended indefinitely, he would not have entered a guilty plea and would have requested a trial. Although Mr. Quick was appealing only his conviction for dangerous driving, the court decided that, because all three charges were a “part of the plea bargain”, in the interests of justice Mr. Quick had a right to apply for dismissal of all three convictions.

Consideration of the arguments

In R. v. Quick, Judge Laskin was tasked with determining whether the accused’s guilty plea was ‘informed’ (and therefore, ‘valid’), based on the following questions.

  1. Did the accused understand the consequences of his plea pursuant to the HTA and given his previous convictions and the caution given by the court clerk?
  2. If ‘no’ to #1, did the accused need to understand the consequences of his guilty plea in order for his plea to be informed?
  3. If ‘no’ to #1 and ‘yes’ to #2, should the court dismiss the conviction for dangerous driving or all three convictions?

Mr. Quick’s lawyer testified that she did not discuss the HTA consequences of his guilty plea with Mr. Quick, but told him only that he would lose his licence for one year. The Crown argued that the accused should have, himself, been aware that his licence would be suspended indefinitely, but the Court did not accept this argument. Further, when the court clerk stated that the HTA provides that, upon conviction, a person’s driver’s licence will be suspended for the amount of time prescribed by the Act, Mr. Quick assumed that this referred to the one-year suspension stated by his counsel. Judge Laskin found that Mr. Quick’s statement was credible and it was reasonable for him to rely on his lawyer’s advice. Therefore, it was concluded that the accused did not comprehend the HTA consequences of his guilty plea.

On the second question, the court considered whether an accused person must understand the HTA consequences of their guilty plea in order for the plea to be informed. It must be noted that, for an offender, a guilty plea has both criminal consequences, such as sentencing; as well as non-criminal consequences, including employment consequences, immigration restrictions, possible civil actions and as in this case, provincially mandated penalties.

In Quick, the key issue underlying the appeal was whether the “accused’s unawareness of a collateral consequence can render a guilty plea uninformed”. On this issue, Canadian courts have not always reached the same conclusions. However, Judge Laskin agreed with the decisions in R. v. Stewart (2002) and R. v. Grewal (2011) where the courts set aside an impaired driving conviction and held that the accused’s plea was not informed because the accused was not properly advised of the provincial suspension by their lawyers. In Stewart, the court asserted that a statutory suspension is a fundamental aspect of the process when a person is facing prosecution for an impaired driving offence. Judge Laskin also noted that an accused’s lack of awareness of the collateral consequences of their guilty plea may render their plea uninformed.

In some cases, the non-criminal consequences or collateral consequences of a guilty plea for a criminal offence may, in fact, have a more substantial impact on the accused person than punishment under the Criminal Code. That is not to say that an accused person must understand every possible collateral consequence of a guilty plea, no matter how remote or insignificant; however, they must understand any consequences that are legally relevant or significant to them. Specifically, the significance of a particular consequence to an accused person who pleaded guilty can be measured by asking whether it is realistic that the accused would have not plead guilty and proceeded to trial if they were informed of the collateral consequence of their plea. The information is significant if the answer is ‘yes’.

In this case, if Mr. Quick had been told the actual consequences of his guilty plea, there is a realistic likelihood that he would have not entered a guilty plea and would have run the risk of a trial. Mr. Quick is a truck driver and his driver’s licence is required for his livelihood, so the consequences of indefinitely losing his licence are drastic. At the very least, if he had been informed of the HTA consequences, he would have sought leave to postpone his case for six months, in lieu of the HTA ten-year limitation period. Judge Laskin concluded that Mr. Quick would have to have understood the HTA consequences of his plea in order for the plea to be informed. And, to deny Mr. Quick a trial when a plea is uninformed constitutes a miscarriage of justice.

Mr. Quick submitted that only his plea and conviction on the charge of dangerous driving should be set aside. Judge Laskin decided that, as only the dangerous driving plea was uninformed, only this conviction “gives rise to a miscarriage of justice”. Accordingly, the court set aside the guilty plea and conviction for dangerous driving and ordered a new trial.

At Kruse Law, our lawyers are highly experienced and skilled in defending DUI and dangerous driving charges, including dangerous driving. We ensure that our clients fully understand the consequences of their plea, and that every decision is made in our client’s best interests.

Posted under Criminal Charges

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