Potential Outcomes of Theft Charges

Theft charges can resolve in a number of ways, depending on a number of factors, including the monetary amount of the theft, the personal circumstances of the accused person and the circumstances surrounding the theft. Outcomes are largely influenced by negotiations with the Crown prosecutor. A qualified lawyer can help you negotiate effectively and pursue the best possible outcome based on the specific circumstances surrounding your theft charges.

Outcomes for theft charges range greatly. Some possible outcomes include:



It is possible for a judge to order a term of imprisonment following a finding of guilt for theft. Imprisonment will usually be ordered in more serious cases of theft, particularly if the theft is over $5,000 or where the Crown proceeds on the charges by indictment.

Section 334 of the Criminal Code sets out that a conviction of theft over $5,000 can result in a penalty of ten years imprisonment. Comparatively, if an individual is convicted of theft under $5,000 (which would likely be the charge with shoplifting), this can result in a penalty of two years imprisonment if the Crown proceeds by indictment.


Conditional Sentence

A conditional sentence is a term of imprisonment that is served in the community. When the court concludes that an appropriate sentence is a jail term of less than two years, it may order is be served in the community subject to conditions.

A conditional sentence can only be ordered if the following criteria are met:

  • The offender is convicted of an offence that has no minimum term of imprisonment;
  • The court has imposed a term of imprisonment of less than two years:
  • The safety of the community would not be endangered by the offender serving the sentence in the community; and
  • A conditional sentence would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing.



Probation may be imposed on its own or in combination with a term of imprisonment or a fine (but not both). Probation is an order with a list of mandatory and discretionary conditions that must be complied with. If you do not comply with your probation conditions, you may be charged with further criminal offences for breach of probation.

Probation can be ordered in the following circumstances:

  • Suspended Sentence – if there is no minimum penalty the judge may suspend the passing of sentence and direct the release of the offender on probation.
  • Part of a Conditional Discharge.
  • Imprisonment – if imprisonment is ordered for a period of less than two years, a probation order may be added to the sentence.
  • Intermittent Sentence – when not in custody, you will be on probation.
  • In Addition to a Fine.



A fine is a sanction that uses a monetary burden as a punitive measure. Fines are paid to the state. Fines can be imposed on their own or in addition to other sanctions. As a pre-condition to imposing a fine, there is an ability to pay requirement.



Pursuant to Section 730(1) of the Criminal Code, a discharge can be ordered by a court once the elements of an offence have been proven or conceded and there has been a finding of guilt. A discharge is ordered instead of a conviction being entered on the record. Courts can order a discharge where:

  1. There is no minimum penalty and the maximum penalty is less than 14 years.
  2. It is in the best interests of the offender.
  3. It is not contrary to the public interest.
  4. Discharges cannot be imposed on corporations.

The availability of a discharge is determined by a balancing of the best interests of the offender and the public.


There are two different types of discharges:

Conditional: you are placed on a term of probation and subject to conditions ordered by the court during that period of time. Under Section 730(4) of the Criminal Code if during the period of your probation order you are convicted of an offence, the court may revoke the discharge, convict the offender and impose another sentence.

Absolute: you are released from court absolutely on the day of the discharge and are subject to no further supervision by the court.


Withdrawal of Charge

With less serious charges of theft, it is possible, to have the charge(s) withdrawn entirely pursuant to s.717 of the Criminal Code. If approved by the Crown and successfully completed criminal charges can be withdrawn, resulting in no criminal record.

Often negotiations with the Crown may need to take place before s.717 resolution is offered as a potential alternative. The circumstances of each offender and offence differ greatly and impact the likelihood of the applicable outcome.. 

It is essential to keep in mind that there is no “guaranteed” resolution for theft charges. The criminal justice system is flexible on sentencing and takes an individualized approach. It is important that your personal circumstances and the circumstances surrounding the offence guide resolution of your matter. Defence counsel will help you with this task early on in the criminal process to ensure the most favourable results possible.

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