Sometimes a suspect will not be charged, or will initially be charged, but will be dealt with outside of court. Dealing with offenders outside of court gives them an opportunity to take responsibility for their behaviour and to address the harm they caused.
Alternatives to court try to balance the needs of victims, the offender and their communities, and ensure that society is protected. As a victim you may have concerns about using an out-of-court process to deal with the person accused of harming you. You may also want to know if and how you can be involved in the process. Understanding how these kinds of decisions are made and the process for dealing with an accused outside of court can be helpful. The program dealing with the case, or a Victim Services program, can help you to understand this process and find answers to your questions.
Alternatives to court can only be used if the accused accepts responsibility for the offence and freely agrees to participate. The needs of the accused, the victim and the community will be considered when deciding whether to keep the case out of court.
Alternatives to court cannot be used in cases involving family violence, child sexual abuse or drinking and driving. They also cannot be used in serious cases involving violence to a person (including sexual assault) or the use or threatened use of weapons.
There are many different alternatives. For example, if the victim is willing, the victim and the offender can meet with a trained mediator and try to come to an agreement about what the offender should do to repair the harm. Sometimes there will be a circle meeting with the victim, if they choose to be involved, the offender and members of the community. In this meeting the parties try to work out an agreement that satisfies the victim, meets the needs of the offender and gives community members a role in helping both parties. An offender may also be referred for counselling, education or treatment. An offender may also agree to pay a victim back for their financial loss.
You will be consulted before a decision is made about using an alternative to court. You will be given information about the alternative being considered and can decide if you want to participate. Involving the victim, if they are willing, is an important part of the process. The process gives victims a chance to tell the offender how the crime affected them and to understand something about the offender's situation. It can also be a way for a victim to receive some form of compensation.
If you do not want to participate, the case may still be dealt with by an alternative to court. In this case a surrogate victim may be used in the meeting or mediation. You can make your wishes known even if you choose not to attend.
Whether you choose to participate or not, you have the right to be told what the outcome was and whether the accused successfully completed the out-of-court alternative. If the accused does not successfully complete the out-of-court alternative the accused can be dealt with through the court system.
PLEA can provide you with information to help you understand many legal matters you, a family member or friend may be facing.