The most well known part of the conviction process in both the USA and Canada is the trial. It’s an event that has gotten a lot of coverage if in fiction, film and television, so many Canadians are familiar with the courtroom setting, a jury, a judge, two opposing lawyers, and a person who pleads either guilty or not guilty. It’s then up to the trial process to come to a final decision about whether guilt should be assigned or not.
For many people, this is the only outcome in a court proceeding that they are aware of. In truth however, even the legal system is not as binary as guilty or not guilty. As recently as May of 2016, for example, the high profile trial of a CBC broadcaster took another route to a resolution. Instead of seeing the trial conclude with a typical verdict, the court instead chose to sign a peace bond.
So what is a peace bond? How does it work? Let’s take a closer look now.
A Contract For Good Behaviour
The case cited above, CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi was involved in 2008 in a case of sexual assault for which he was charged. His trial was set for June 2016, and, had that case gone to court, he would have faced four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking.
Instead, what happened is the trial was effectively closed, and Ghomeshi instead signed a peace bond. As long as he agrees to the terms of the bond he signed, the charges laid against him would be withdrawn, and, once a set period of time has elapsed, it is possible for all records leading up to the peace bond to be deleted from the Canadian Police Information Centre.
Not A Productive Trial
A peace bond is a common method of legal resolution in Canada that is actually not widely practiced in the United States. The closest American equivalent to what Canadians call a peace bond is the American “restraining order.” Both a peace bond and a restraining order are “contracts,” in that they lay out a specific type of expected behaviour, such as not interacting with a specific person, or, in the case of a peace bond, more specific actions, such as agreeing not to own weapons, or even give up alcohol or drugs.
Usually, a peace bond will be chosen as an alternative when the court concludes that trying to seek a resolution on a particular trial is not going to be productive for anyone involved. This may be for numerous reasons, such as reasonable grounds to believe a person charged with a crime is likely guilty, but without enough sufficient court evidence or witness testimony to ensure any kind of satisfactory resolution. In some cases, a defendant may, on his or her own action, seek to apply for a peace bond either with the help of a lawyer or through the assistance of the police.
In one sense, getting and signing a peace bond means that a trial, and the associated charges, have all been “cancelled.” Provided that the person signing the bond actually adheres to the conditions stated within the bond, and does so for a set period of time—usually one year—at the conclusion of the peace bond, everything goes “back to normal” for the person with the bond. No trial took place, and the original charges, upon signing, were withdrawn, and the person is no longer considered pending with a resolution on those charges.
However, should a person break the conditions of a peace bond, new charges, such as breach or recognizance, or disobeying a court order may be made. These charges are also considered criminal offences, and so in addition to a fine, a defendant may also face a jail sentence of up to four years.
The Lingering Remains
While a peace bond is a way to avoid a conviction, that does not mean that a person’s criminal record is now totally “clean.” Anyone that conducts a background check will still see that an arrest was made, and charges were laid against a person. It is only a conviction that is not visible in the system, but the fact that you were charged still technically remains. This can be a huge impediment to obtaining employment, volunteering, coaching or even traveling to the US.
However, once a peace bond has been fulfilled, even the arrest and charges can be removed from public record. If you want to ensure that these last, lingering traces are erased, we know what you need to do to achieve this, and can help you expedite the process.