It is being widely reported that Former Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward Patrice Cormier has been awarded an unconditional discharge after changing his not guilty plea to guilty. Cormier was initially charged with assault causing bodily harm for the elbow he delivered to Mikael Tam. The elbow sent Tam into convulsions on the ice. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League suspended Cormier for the hit.
It is also being reported that this is the same punishment handed down to other hockey players such as Todd Bertuzzi, Jonathan Roy and Alexander Perezhogin.
It's not though - Cormier got off easier than those guys. They got all got conditional discharges, which is different than Cormier's unconditional discharge.
A conditional discharge means you’re on probation with conditions. If you obey the conditions until the end of the probation, which can be up to 3 years, then the law treats you as not having a conviction. But if you don’t obey the conditions, or you don’t finish the probation, you can be charged with breach of probation.
An unconditional or absolute discharge means a discharge with no conditions. The individual doesn’t have to abide by certain conditions. A sentence of an unconditional discharge may be imposed when a judge does not believe that it would be helpful to impose any conditions on the defendant.
When Cormier initially pled not guilty, it was a bit of a surprise. Generally, players in similar cases have pled guilty and walked away with a conditional discharge.
Bertuzzi pled guilty for his hit on Steve Moore. So did Perezhogin for his vicious two-hander to Garrett Stafford's head. Backup goalie turned backup singer Roy also pled guilty for beating up an unwilling Bobby Nadeau. They all walked with conditional discharges.
For more on this, please read the article Patrice Cormier Pleads Not Guilty & The Crime Of Assault In Hockey.
In this case, Cormier did issue an apology, which may have been a part of the deal of getting an unconditional discharge (Roy never apologized for hitting Nadeau). Cormier said,
“I’m a physical player but this is no excuse for what I did. I want to apologize again to Mikael Tam and his family and I wish him the best of luck in his career,” Cormier said.
As well, it is possible that Cormier's lawyer believed by first pleading not guilty it would put pressure on the prosecution to settle on more favourable terms than a conditional discharge. Just guessing though.
As we haven't hear anything about a civil suit by Tam, this may bring the matter to a close.