What is a plea inquiry?
A plea inquiry is a series of four questions that the judge will likely ask you in court before they allow you to plead guilty. Duty counsel (or your lawyer) may have already asked you these questions in private. The plea inquiry is done so the judge knows you understand what it means to plead guilty; that you are aware of your option to plead not guilty and have a trial; and that you are aware of what can happen to you if plead guilty. The plea inquiry questions are:
Are you pleading guilty voluntarily?
Do you understand that by pleading guilty that you are admitting to facts that make up a criminal offence?
Do you understand the consequences of a guilty plea, including that you are giving up your right to have a trial by pleading guilty?
Do you understand that the judge does not have to follow the sentence that your lawyer and/or the Crown are recommending?
The decision to plead guilty is yours, and yours alone. It is not up to your lawyer or anyone else – though your lawyer (or duty counsel) will have given you legal advice to help you make your decision. The judge will want to know that nobody is forcing you to plead guilty. If you have been forced or coerced into pleading guilty, the judge will not accept your guilty plea.
Pleading guilty “just to get your case over with” is not an acceptable reason in criminal court. You must have truthfully done something that amounts to an offence in order to plead guilty. You must also have the proper guilty state of mind at the time of the offence to plead guilty. See “What does being guilty of an offence mean?”
By pleading guilty, you are telling the judge that you understand that you have a right to have a trial where the Crown has to prove the charges against you, and that by pleading guilty, you are giving up that right. Remember, if you plead guilty, unless there are exceptional circumstances, you can’t come back later and say you didn’t mean to plead guilty and that you want to have a trial instead. The judge will also want you to be aware that pleading guilty could mean that you will have a criminal record, or could possibly go to jail.
It is very important to understand what the Crown is asking for as a sentence before you make a decision to plead guilty. You should also be aware of the sentence that your lawyer (or duty counsel) is asking for. In some cases, your lawyer or duty counsel may be asking for the same sentence as the Crown. This is called a joint submission. If your lawyer and the Crown have a joint submission for the judge, the judge does not necessarily have to agree to it.