Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Suspended Sentence Definition:

A judicial prerogative retained by a sentencing judge on a person convicted of a crime by which the full sentencing of a convicted person is suspended or deferred until some future time commensurate with the convicted person’s compliance with the terms of an interim probation order.

Related Terms: Conditional Sentence

In Criminal Trial Handbook:

"Section 731(1)(a) ... authorizes the sentencing judge to suspend the passing of sentence, except where the (Criminal) Code provides for a minimum punishment.

"In such instances, the offender must be placed on probation and be subject to the conditions set forth in the probation order.

"An offender who breaches a term of the probation order, is liable to a charge of breach (of) probation. The Crown may then apply to have the sentencing judge revoke the suspended sentence and impose any sentence that could have been imposed originally."

In any event, a suspended sentence results in a criminal record.

By a suspended sentence, a judge may wish to give a convicted person an opportunity to avoid a period of incarceration or a significant fine by suspending or postponing that part of the sentence until the convicted person has had an opportunity of complying with certain conditions set out in a probation order. If the conditions of the probation order are not complied with, the full brunt of the suspended sentence may then be enforced. In this way, the judge keeps the person on a judicial tether.

A common misconception of a suspended sentence is that it is no sentence at all, akin to an acquittal. It is true that all persons who receive a suspended sentence are eligible for judicial forgiveness in the event that they are law abiding and of good behavior during the period of the suspended sentence, and many persons who receive a suspended sentence never get sentenced to jail time because they remain on good behavior for the duration of the suspended sentence. At the same time, it is also true that a suspended sentence is kept hanging over the individual as the threat of a full sentence for the original crime for which sentence was suspended, as well as conviction and sentence for any new crime occurring during the period of the suspended sentence if any such crime occurs. In addition, no judicial favors can be expected from a judge who finds before him or her an individual to whom an opportunity for production was afforded by failed good behavior during the period of the suspended sentence.

The tool of a suspended sentence is well entrenched in the arsenal of criminal court judges. It does not seem to promote deterrence whatsoever but instead, is focused on the rehabilitation of the individual.


  • Salhany, R., Criminal Trial Handbook (Toronto: Carswell, 2008), page 15-19.

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!