The New-Brunswick Aboriginal Duty Counsel Project


It was observed earlier that the conventional wisdom holds that Aboriginal people sometimes plead guilty when a defense is possible, just to "get it over".  Alienation from the system, confusion about the nature of the justice process, and the simple absence of ability to understand the options available because language barriers are usually cited as reasons for the "pleading out" syndrome. The rationale for this project emphasizes limited communication between the Aboriginal clients and duty counsel prior to the project. The possibility that Aboriginal clients were pleading guilty when a defense should have been pursued, all because of poor communication between client and counsel, was not an explicit rationale for the project. However, this was viewed to be a distinct possibility, in view of the conditions that did give rise to the project.

Therefore, questions were asked about the client's intention to plead, the duty counsel lawyer's advice concerning plea, and the actual plea that was entered.  As the table below shows, either there was no tendency to "plead out", or the presence of the Aboriginal lawyer acting as duty counsel had no effect on doing so. Data are available on approximately 75 people who entered guilty pleas. The percentage differences in Table 13.1 are very small.

Table 13.1: Intention to Plead, Legal Advice and Plea Entered
  Number * Percent
Intended to Plead Guilty 38 26.0 %
Advised to Plead Guilty 39 26.7 %
Entered a Guilty Plea 40 27.4 %

* Number total is 146

However, it is clear that the duty counsel lawyer did not dissuade clients from entering guilty pleas. Data presented above showed that the number of guilty pleas was already relatively low compared with the non-Aboriginal population.