The New-Brunswick Aboriginal Duty Counsel Project

14. ACTUAL PLEAS

About one quarter of the clients of the Aboriginal duty counsel project entered guilty pleas at first appearance.

Table 14.1: Plea Entered at First Appearance By Aboriginal Clients
Plea Entered Number Percent
Not Guilty 72 49.4 %
Guilty 40 27.4 %
Adjourned 34 23.2 %
TOTAL 146 100.0 %

These results are all the more interesting when compared with the pre-project data reported in Table 14.2 The table below shows the comparative data. The percentage of Aboriginal people entering not guilty pleas was only 17 % in 1996-1997 and 25 % in 1997-1998.

Table 14.2: Plea at First Appearance: Pre-Project and Project Comparisons (Aboriginal Clients Only)
  Regular Duty Counsel Aboriginal Duty Counsel
1996-97 (N=194) 1997-98 (N=161) Project (N=146)
Not Guilty 17 % 25 % 49 %
Guilty 36 % 29 % 27 %
Adjourned 43 % 46 % 24 %

A major impact of the project is the decline in the number of adjournments. The proportion of adjournments has dropped significantly to about 24 % of outcomes from the two previous years in which the percentage of adjournments was 43 % and 46 %. The percentage of offenders entering guilty pleas declined to 27 % from 29 % in 1997-98 year and 36 % in the year prior to that, 1996-97. However, the most dramatic shift seems to have been between adjournments and guilty pleas.

It appears that most of the decline in adjournments resulted in clients entering pleas of not guilty. About 49 % of the Aboriginal people served by the Aboriginal Duty Counsel Project entered pleas on not guilty. Only 17 % of offenders identified as Aboriginal in 1996-97, and 25 % in 1997-98 entered not guilty pleas.

The data presented in Table 13.1 show that there was very little shift between intention to plead and actual plea by Aboriginal accused served by the Project. In the same population that showed no shift between intention to plead and actual plea, 49 % of clients entered not guilty pleas. In the previous two years, only 17 % and 25 % of Aboriginal people who were served by the regular duty counsel program entered initial pleas of not guilty without one or more adjournments. One can surmise that intentions concerning pleading should not be too different in the two previous years. However, in those years many fewer Aboriginal people entered initial pleas of not guilty.

The data provide indirect evidence of the absence of effective communication between the duty counsel lawyer and the client in the two pre-project years. The greater numbers of adjournments appear to reflect the inability of the Aboriginal clients to communicate their intention to enter pleas of not guilty.

Certainly, many accused may have eventually entered not guilty pleas following the adjournment of their case. The data treat each appearance as a unique event. They do not provide the level of detail to track individual accused from adjournment to entering a plea.

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