Conditional sentencing was introduced in 1995 as a way to reduce the overreliance on incarceration as a form of punishment. It is an alternative for offenders who do not pose a threat to the community at large. The use of conditional sentencing is not without controversy and is not available to everyone who commits a crime. It may keep offenders of certain types of crimes out of jail, but only under a stringent set of rules.
What is a Conditional Sentencing Order (CSO)?
Imprisonment is often the last resort for crimes that don’t rise to the level of “no choice” but prison. In many cases, a Conditional Sentencing Order is seen as more cost-effective and a way of reducing the overburdened prison system. However, a CSO is not a get-out-of-jail card. Instead, it is an alternative sentence that means an offender serves their time outside of prison, within their community, but under the strictest of conditions. To be clear, a CSO is a jail sentence, however, the period of jail is served in the community rather than an institutional setting.
Typically, an offender who is given a Conditional Sentencing Order will:
- Be under “house arrest” for a portion of their sentence, after which he or she will have a curfew
- Be required to complete community service or otherwise “pay back” the community through restitution or reparation
- Likely be required to attend counselling
- Be required to abstain from the use of alcohol or other intoxicants
- Not be allowed to communicate with others who may have been involved in the criminal act
- Not be allowed to communicate with the complainant(s), if any
- Not be allowed to have firearms or other weapons
- Be required to complete community service hours
Additional mandatory CSO requirements that are standard wording in Edmonton Criminal Court include:
- An offender who is granted CSO must “keep the peace and be of behaviour.”
- Must appear before the court when required to do so
- Report to his or her supervisor as specified
- Remain within Alberta unless getting written permission for their supervisor
- Notify the supervisor of any change of name, address, or employment/occupation
The CSO term may actually be longer than a jail sentence, but it is often seen as preferable since the alternative is actual incarceration.
Are there exceptions to the rules of a Conditional Sentencing Order?
In certain circumstances, a person under a CSO may be allowed to be absent from their approved residence. There can be no “verbal” agreement; any agreement must be in writing and with prior approval from the supervisor. Among the most common reasons for an exception include attending approved educational or training programs; going to work or looking for employment; performing court-ordered community service; shopping for necessities (up to four hours per week); going to medical or dental appointments; attending religious services; or to vote in a municipal, provincial, or federal election.
Who is eligible for a Conditional Sentencing Order?
Those who are not eligible for a CSO include those who have committed an “excluded” offence.
Excluded offences include any offence that carries a mandatory minimum period of jail, as well as the specific offences of murder, torture and advocating genocide. Further, any offence that carries a maximum period of jail of 10 years or more that relates to terrorism or a criminal organization will be excluded from the possibility of a CSO.
CSO eligibility depends on the following circumstances:
- There is no minimum sentence attached to the offence
- The sentence for the offence is not more than two years
- The safety of the community would not be endangered by the offender serving the sentence in the community
- Imposing a CSO would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing
What are the consequences of breaching your Conditional Sentence Order?
While it is often assumed that breaching the condition(s) of a CSO means going to jail, the judge does have some discretion. Under Section 742.6(9) of the Criminal Code of Canada, the court may choose to:
- Take no action
- Change the optional conditions
- Suspend the CSO and direct “that the offender serves in custody a portion of the unexpired sentence, and that the conditional sentence order resume on the offender’s release from custody, either with or without changes to the optional conditions.”
- Terminate the CSO and “direct that the offender be committed to custody until the expiration of the sentence.”
When should you seek legal help?
If you are charged with or arrested for a crime, it is in your best interest to get immediate legal advice. Your lawyer is your advocate who will make sure that your rights under the law are protected. In the best of all worlds, your lawyer can get charges dismissed. When that is not possible, your lawyer will leave no stone unturned to find the best alternative. In most cases, clients find that a Conditional Sentence Order is preferable to time in jail. We serve clients in greater Edmonton and throughout Alberta.
How an experienced Edmonton Conditional Sentence Order lawyer from Chadi & Company can benefit you
With more than 190 years of combined experience, the lawyers at Chadi & Company are committed to providing the highest quality defence for those who are facing criminal charges. A Conditional Sentence Order is an alternative that can allow you to stay in your home or in a rehabilitation clinic and even go to work or school while you complete your sentence. We have a track record of success in helping our clients obtain CSOs and avoid being incarcerated. To learn more about how we may be able to help you, please contact us online or call our office at (780) 429-2300 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.