In criminal defence practice, the final decision-making authority for choice of plea rests with the accused. While counsel plays an important role in ensuring that pleas are voluntary, informed, and unequivocal, “the ultimate choice is that of the accused” and counsel “are ethically required to seek their client’s direct instruction” (R. v. Wong, 2018 SCC 25 at paragraphs 3 and 11).
An accused’s choice of plea is a uniquely personal decision. As stated by Justices Moldaver, Gascon and Brown, speaking for a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada in Wong, at para. 11:
...The decision to plead guilty reflects deeply personal considerations, including subjective levels of tolerance, priorities, family and employment circumstances, and individual idiosyncrasies. …
While an accused’s choice of plea may appear unwise or irrational, the majority of the Court in Wong states clearly that it “…is the decision of the accused, not a reasonable accused, or someone like the accused” (para. 12) (emphasis in the original).
A client’s motivations with respect to choice of plea may not always be transparent to counsel, and a client may not want to articulate the reasons behind his or her decision. In some cases, an accused may want to avoid the embarrassment of a public trial, whereas in other cases, a public admission of the alleged wrongdoing may simply be more than the client can bear. Ultimately it is the accused persons who must live with themselves and their decisions.
The bottom line is that counsel ensures their clients’ choices are informed, voluntary, and unequivocal, while the clients must personally weigh all of the factors bearing upon their decision.