Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Guilty Definition:

A person found guilty of a criminal charge, either as a result of an acknowledgment of it by pleading guilty, or as a result of a trial at which the accused was found guilty of the offence changed.

Related Terms: Conviction

James Ballentine's 1969 law dictionary defines guilty as "criminality, culpability, guiltiness, the antithesis of innnocence" and "the state of a person who has committed an offence."

In law, the state of being guilty means that either a person had pleaded guilty and that plea has been accepted by the Court, or there has been a trial, before jury or judge without jury, and the accused has been found guilty of the charges levelled against him or her.

In common language, an individual may believe that they are guilty of a certain offence but because of details not known to be relevant or even important to the layman, a conviction might not follow. Note these words of Justice McHugh of the High Court of Australia in Eatman v Director of Public Prosecutions:

"The lawyer maintains that guilt exists in a criminal law context only when it is perceived as the concomitant of a conviction. To assert otherwise is to deny the presumption of innocence, a presumption that operates until the entry of a conviction rebuts it....

"The term guilt is often used to mean state of guilt. But used in that sense, guilt usually refers to culpable or morally reprehensible conduct that is deserving of punishment, penalty or social condemnation.

"It is not necessarily synonymous with the legal quality of the acts, omissions and state of mind that together constitute a particular criminal offence.... A person may believe that he or she is guilty of a breach of the law when in fact no law has been breached."

The Alberta Evidence Act defines a finding of guilt as follows:

"Finding of guilt means the plea of guilty by an accused to an offence or the finding that an accused is guilty of an offence made before or by a court that makes an order directing that the accused be discharged for the offence either absolutely or on the conditions prescribed in a probation order, when the order directing the discharge is not subject to further appeal, or no appeal is taken in respect of the order directing the discharge...."

Pleading guilty comes with significant consequences as was pointed out by Justice Roach of the Ontario Court of Appeal in R v Tennen:

"A plea of guilty freely and voluntarily and understandingly made precludes the accused from denying that he did what is charged in the information. The plea of guilty, therefore, disposes of the questions of fact and they are not thereafter in issue. The accused may still appeal on the ground that the conviction is bad in law; also on an objection to the information, provided it was taken at the trial.

"A plea of guilty does not preclude an accused from appealing against the sentence imposed.

"By the plea of guilty an accused concurs in the facts alleged in the information but he does not thereby concur in the sentence imposed."

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