Generally, if you were unrepresented by counsel and have entered a guilty plea without understanding the nature of the charge or the effect of the plea, you may still be able to change your plea to not guilty before you are sentenced.
Procedurally, a change of plea can be made before sentencing to the same judge who took the plea. However, in order for the change of plea to be granted, you will have to present evidence to the judge that clearly demonstrates that your initial plea was not valid. Factors that may lead to a plea being found invalid include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Inadequate representation by counsel;
- Pressure by a person in authority or threats by a third party to plead guilty;
- Failure of the Crown to disclose evidence before trial; and
- An uninformed or equivocal plea.
Generally speaking, you will not be allowed to change your plea if your evidence suggests that you changed your mind after receiving an unexpected sentence, or that you just changed your mind after unequivocally pled guilty. Rather, the onus will be on you to show that your guilty plea was entered due to some underlying injustice, and that there would be real a miscarriage of justice if you were forced to go forward with your guilty plea. This is not always an easy burden to meet, and your success will depend heavily on your ability to properly enter evidence in favour of your application. Because there are a number of complicated laws and procedures governing when and how evidence can be entered in a court of law, it is in your best interests to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer to assist you with your application.
By contrast, if you have pled not guilty and your matter has been set for trial, you can change your plea to guilty at any point. Sometimes, if you do not have a strong defence and face a high likelihood of conviction if you go to trial, it may be advantageous for you to plead guilty prior to trial. Even in cases where there is extremely strong evidence against you and you plead guilty, it is still possible to avoid a criminal record by making an application for a conditional discharge or an absolute discharge. To learn more about discharges and how they can allow you to avoid a criminal record, visit our sentencing page.