I have been charged with a criminal offence. What do I do?
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, the first thing you must do is hire an experienced criminal lawyer. It is important that you understand your rights and the criminal process before you make any decisions about how to deal with your matter. Your lawyer will ensure you understand the process. Some of the decisions you will make are time sensitive so it is important you hire a lawyer as soon as you.
Can I represent myself?
No. It is not a good idea to represent yourself. Canada’s criminal law is a complex mixture of statutes, common law and precedents. The Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms has improved the rights of accused persons but has also complicated what could have been a simple trial. Don’t risk your future by trying to defend your own criminal case. It is in your best interest to hire a professional to help guide you through the process.
How much will a criminal lawyer cost?
Some criminal lawyers charge by the hour and other criminal lawyers charge a block fee for their services. Typically, criminal lawyers charge block fees. This means that your lawyer will advise you what the total cost of your matter will likely be. The initial quote is subject to change depending on the progression of your matter and how the case unfolds.
There is no one size fits all method for quoting a block fee. Every criminal matter is different and comes with its own unique complexities. Prior to giving you a quote the lawyer will carefully review the file in order to determine how much your matter will likely cost.
How can I avoid a criminal record?
Being charged with a criminal offence does not necessarily mean you will have a criminal record. It is certainly possible to avoid having a criminal record even after being charged with a criminal offence. The most common way to avoid a criminal record is for the Crown to withdraw the charges against you. Another common way is to be acquitted of all charges after your trial. The court can also choose to stay your proceedings as well, which will not leave you with a criminal record.
How quickly can my criminal case be dealt with?
Every criminal case is different. There is no simple answer to this question. The time it will take to deal with your criminal matter depends on many factors including the complexity of the charges you are facing, if you would like to take the matter to trial and the court’s scheduling availability. Of course, your criminal lawyer will work towards having your case dealt with as quickly as possible but it is important to remember it is not a quick process.
The police have called me. Should I talk to them?
You have the right to remain silent under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This means that you have no obligation to speak with the police. Even if the police tell you that they want to meet with you to get your side of the story, they still may be planning to arrest you and are hoping that you will provide them with some information that will assist them in your arrest. Remember that anything you say to police can be used against you, even if it is not being recorded. If you have been contacted by the police it is important to contact a criminal lawyer.
I think I’m being investigated for a crime, what do I do?
You should contact a criminal lawyer if you think you are being investigated for a crime. The criminal lawyer will explain what your obligations are when dealing with the police and will advise you how to handle the situation. In most situations you are not required to speak with police. You should not consider speaking to the police until you have received legal advice from a criminal lawyer.
Do I have to attend court?
Your lawyer can attend court on your behalf, so long as the Crown has elected to proceed summarily or your lawyer has filed a document called a Designation of Counsel on your behalf. However, you will be required to attend court when: oral evidence of a witness is being heard, when jurors are being selected, when a guilty plea is entered, when you are being sentenced, and any other time where the court orders your attendance.
What happens at my first court appearance?
Your first court appearance will be very brief, usually lasting less than one minute. Your first appearance is not your criminal trial. If you have retained a lawyer, your lawyer will be there to guide you through the process.
When in court, you will be asked to step forward once the Crown has called your name from their docket. The Court will then ask whether you have hired a lawyer to represent you and will ask if you have received any disclosure from the Crown (the evidence the Crown intends to rely upon in order to prove your guilt). Your matter will typically be adjourned for three to four weeks in order to give you time to review or receive your disclosure and consult your lawyer about your next steps (which often involve a Crown pre-trial).
What is a crown pre-trial?
A Crown pre-trial may also be referred to as a Crown resolution meeting. It is a conversation that happens outside of the courtroom with the Crown that has been assigned to your file and your criminal lawyer. The purpose of the discussion is to narrow the issues in your case and determine how the matter will be proceeding (i.e. if the Crown will be withdrawing the charge, if the matter will be resolving, or if it will be proceeding to trial). During this conversation, your lawyer will discuss any potential weaknesses in the case, the length of the trial and why the Crown should consider withdrawing the charges or giving you a lesser sentence.
What is a judicial pre-trial?
A judicial pre-trial is similar to a Crown pre-trial, except a judge is now part of the conversation. This meeting usually happens after your lawyer has had a Crown pre-trial. During the Crown pre-trial your lawyer and the Crown will usually agree that some issues should be discussed in front of a judge. The discussions that are had during the judicial pre-trial are similar to the ones had at the Crown pre-trial, however, the judge will give his or her opinion about the strength and weaknesses of the case and possible resolutions. These discussions are held without prejudice, meaning that they are not binding on anyone. Judicial pre-trials are often helpful because the judge can help persuade the Crown to offer you a more favourable resolution position.
Should I plead guilty?
The decision to plead guilty or to plead not guilty is complicated. Before you decide to plead guilty it is important that you hire a criminal lawyer in order to advise you if that is the best decision. In addition to what your lawyer may tell you about your case, there are several more general things to consider before pleading guilty:
- What is the sentence that is being proposed by the Crown and defence. Is it a joint position?
- Would you obtain a better sentence if you were convicted after trial?
- What are your chances of winning your case if you had a trial?
- Are there any evidentiary or constitutional issues with the Crown’s case that would make it hard for them to convict you?
- What are the long term consequences of the conviction and sentence?
- Are there any immigration consequences?
- Are there any family law consequences?
I am not happy with the decision of my case. What can I do?
If you are not happy, you must submit a Notice of Appeal to the court with your intention to appeal within 30 days after the day on which your sentence was imposed. You will also have to order a copy of the trial transcript and file proof that you ordered the transcript along with your Notice of Appeal. The appeal must then be “perfected” within 90 days of the transcripts being received. This means that all of the court documents required for your appeal must be served on the Crown and filed with the court within that time.
Do I have to blow into a roadside screening device or breathalyzer if the police ask me to?
Yes. Failing or refusing to provide a breath sample is a criminal offence that carries the same penalties as impaired driving or “over 80” offences. The penalties for refusing to blow into a roadside screening device are serious.
Can the police search my home or car?
The police can search your home or car if they have a valid warrant from the Court that authorizes the search. If the police tell you they have a warrant it is important that you ask to see it to confirm they have the right address. There are also cases where police can search your home or car without a warrant. Your lawyer can contest the legality of the search in court, not while it is occurring.
Do the police have the right to search me?
The police have a right to search you incident to your arrest. They are allowed to pat you down to make sure you do not have any weapons. They are also able to search you for evidence related to the crime you were arrested for. In some circumstances they are also able to strip-search you. However, if they do strip-search you it must be done in a private area and in a manner that does not degrade or intimidate you.