The Supreme Court of Canada recently affirmed that joint submissions, where the Crown and the Defence negotiate an agreement on sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, are an integral part of the justice system (R. v. Anthony-Cook, 2016 SCC 43). The Court states at para. 35 that:
…When plea resolutions are “properly conducted [they] benefit not only the accused, but also victims, witnesses, counsel, and the administration of justice generally” (Martin Committee Report, at p. 281 (emphasis deleted))…
It is easy to understand how joint submissions benefit an accused. As stated by the Court at para 36:
…This (sentence) recommendation is likely to be more lenient than the accused might expect after a trial and/or contested sentencing hearing. Accused persons who plead guilty promptly are able to minimize the stress and legal costs associated with trials. Moreover, for those who are truly remorseful, a guilty plea offers an opportunity to begin making amends. For many accused, maximizing certainty as to the outcome is crucial…
It may be less apparent how joint submissions serve the public interest.
One significant benefit of a joint submission for a Crown Attorney is the guarantee that the accused will be held accountable and subject to punishment. The outcome of a criminal trial is never a foregone conclusion. As the Court states at para. 39:
…The Crown's case may suffer from flaws, such as an unwilling witness, a witness of dubious worth, or evidence that is potentially inadmissible -- problems that can lead to an acquittal. By agreeing to a joint submission in exchange for a guilty plea, the Crown avoids this risk.
The state may also derive other benefits from the accused. As the Court notes at para. 39:
…the accused may have information or testimony to offer the Crown that can prove invaluable to other investigations or prosecutions. But this information may not be forthcoming absent an agreement as to a joint submission.
A resolution without a trial may also serve the interests of a complainant or another witness. As the Court states at para. 39:
When an accused pleads guilty in exchange for a joint submission on sentence, victims and witnesses are spared the "the emotional cost of a trial" (R. v. Edgar, 2010 ONCA 529, 101 O.R. (3d) 161, at para. 111). Moreover, victims may obtain some comfort from a guilty plea, given that it "indicates an accused's acknowledgement of responsibility and may amount to an expression of remorse" (Edgar, at para. 111)…
The Court also emphasizes that joint submissions serve a broader public interest in preserving valuable resources in an overburdened criminal justice system. The Court states that:
… guilty pleas save the justice system precious time, resources, and expenses, which can be channeled into other matters. This is no small benefit. To the extent that they avoid trials, joint submissions on sentence permit our justice system to function more efficiently. Indeed, I would argue that they permit it to function. Without them, our justice system would be brought to its knees, and eventually collapse under its own weight (para. 40).
The next post in this series will examine the procedural steps that a trial judge should follow when contemplating the rejection of a joint submission.