The difference between absolute and conditional discharges

When you’re accused of a crime, you may be found guilty or not guilty. These are the most common outcomes. However, between these two ends of the spectrum lies the discharge. While the accused may be found guilty of the crime, it doesn’t result in a conviction. We might see a situation like this when it’s demonstrably against the public interest to disrupt the life of the accused and that person’s friends and family, for example, in the case of an offense that isn’t particularly serious.

In the event of a discharge, you will not have a conviction or a permanent mark on your criminal record, except for any that were already there. However, the discharge will appear on your record for a certain amount of time. Furthermore, the consequences will vary, depending on the type of discharge. When it comes to absolute discharges and conditional discharges, you’re better off knowing the definitions, as well as the differences between them!

Absolute discharge: giving it a chance

If it were possible to choose one’s sentence, an absolute discharge would obviously garner all the votes. As the name suggests, it doesn’t result in the imposition of any penalties or conditions on the accused, despite proven guilt. Specifically, a person granted an absolute discharge will not have a criminal record stemming from the charges. Nevertheless, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will maintain a record of the absolute discharge for a period of one year.

In what cases can one seek an absolute discharge?

  • The accused is found guilty of an offense for which the law doesn’t prescribe a minimum sentence and that isn’t punishable by fourteen or more years of imprisonment.
  • The judge deems that it’s truly in the best interests of the accused. For example, if there’s a risk of a loss of employment leading to the accused’s inability to support his or her family.
  • The discharge cannot be detrimental to the public interests. Therefore, it’s necessary to convince the judge that the societal advantages of granting a discharge outweigh the disadvantages of enabling the accused to avoid a criminal record. In such a case, the services of a criminal law firm may prove to be a determining factor.

In general, if the seriousness of the offense is minor or if the accused has no prior criminal history, the chances of obtaining an absolute discharge are greater.

Notable differences of a conditional discharge

Once again, the accused is found guilty, but won’t be subject to a criminal conviction or a permanent mark on his or her criminal record. However, the accused must comply with a certain number of conditions, and in contrast to an absolute discharge, a conditional discharge will remain on the person’s record for a period of three years.

Here are some other differences that are important to understand:

  • A conditional discharge includes probation, generally for one to two years. It’s also important to note that the accused’s fingerprints are only purged from the record once the probationary period has expired.
  • US Customs may consider a conditional discharge to be equivalent to a criminal record.
  • A conditional discharge may be admissible grounds for certain Canadian employers to deny employment to an individual.

A discharge will be stricken from your criminal record after one year in the case of an absolute discharge or three years in the case of a conditional discharge. Requesting a fingerprint check is a rapid, reliable means of verifying that your record is up to date once this period has concluded.

Do you need legal advice or representation?

The judicial system employs many terms and actions that may or may not be accessible and understandable to people who aren’t familiar with the subject matter. Have you been accused of an offense? Have you already been granted a discharge and want to know more about the consequences? Contact the law offices of criminal attorney Martine Thibodeau. As specialists in criminal offenses, her team will help you understand your rights and perfectly navigate all of the legal proceedings.


National Pardon Centre. Conditional Discharge and Absolute Discharge. 2016.
Steps to Justice. What is a conditional or absolute discharge? 2018.

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