What are my options if I am charged with a criminal offence?

Susan Karpa Criminal Lawyer in CalgaryIf you have been charged or are being investigated, hiring a Calgary criminal lawyer is important. I can explain the strategy for fighting these charges, the repercussions of a guilty plea, the nature of a peace bond if applicable, and other related aspects of your charges. Contact us now at 587-888-7149 for a free consultation.

What are my options if I am charged with a criminal offence?

If you are charged with committing a crime, you have several choices to make:

  • Who will defend the charge against you.
  • Whether to plead guilty or plead not guilty and go to trial.
  • Whether to pursue an option other than pleading guilty or not guilty, like a diversion program.

Below, I direct you to information to help you make each of these choices in an informed way.

Should I hire a lawyer?

If you are charged with a criminal offence, you should hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer. The legal system is complicated, and the stakes are high. You will want someone in your corner who knows what they are doing and will work hard to get you the best outcome possible. If you represent yourself, you will be held to the same standard as a criminal defence lawyer who knows the applicable law, procedures, and evidence. This is almost always a recipe for disaster.

If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer privately, you may be able to hire a lawyer through Legal Aid Alberta. If you qualify for Legal Aid funding, then you can ask Legal Aid to offer me to be your lawyer.

I also offer payment plans to make my services more affordable. I discuss all of this in more detail in an FAQ titled “I can’t afford a lawyer. What are my options?”.

Should I plead guilty or go to trial?

Whether you should plead guilty or go to trial depends on your situation. A not guilty plea is a formal statement that you did not commit the charged crime and are willing to go to trial. A guilty plea is a formal statement that you did commit the crime and are willing to accept responsibility. I discuss guilty and not guilty pleas in depth in my FAQ: “What is a ‘plea’?”.

Whether you should plead guilty or go to trial depends on your situation, and may not always be obvious at first.

Consider the following examples:

  • You may think that you are guilty of the charged crime when you are actually innocent. If you are innocent, you should not plead guilty.
  • You may think you are innocent of the charged crime when you are guilty and there is a lot of evidence against you and no viable defence. In this case, you may want to enter an early guilty plea to get the lowest possible sentence.
  • The crown prosecutor may be unable to prove that you are guilty because the police violated your Charter rights when they collected the evidence that would be used to convict you, and a judge would not admit that evidence at trial.
  • You may be able to plead guilty to a different offence that carries a less serious penalty, which may even allow you to avoid a criminal record.

If you decide to plead not guilty and go to trial, you may have to choose what kind of trial to have. I discuss this in my FAQ: “What is ‘election’?”.

Do I have an option other than trial or a guilty plea?

In many cases, you may be able to deal with your charges without going to trial or pleading guilty. For example, you may be able to resolve your matter by completing a diversion program, having the charges against you dropped, or entering into a peace bond.

A diversion program is an alternative to prosecuting a charge. If you are referred to a diversion program, then you will have to complete certain requirements. If you complete those requirements, then the charge against you will be withdrawn. Whether a crown prosecutor agrees to refer you to a diversion program depends on the crime you are charged with, your personal circumstances, and many other factors. Diversion programs commonly seen in Calgary include the alternative measures program (AMP) and mental health diversion (MHD), and, for youth matters, extra-judicial measures (EJM), and extra-judicial sanctions (EJS). If your defence lawyer persuades the crown prosecutor to refer your matter to a diversion program, it will be up to you to complete the program requirements. The requirements depend on the program and the situation, and may include writing an apology letter, doing community service, undergoing counselling, etc. Diversion programs are often an excellent option, as they allow you to avoid a formal criminal record. I discuss diversion programs in more detail in my FAQ: “Can I resolve my matter without going to trial?”.

Crown prosecutors can only prosecute you if there is a public interest in doing so and a reasonable prospect of conviction. Therefore, if your criminal defence lawyer can persuade the crown prosecutor that there is either no reasonable prospect of conviction or no public interest in prosecuting, then the crown prosecutor should withdraw (drop) the charge. I discuss this in my FAQ: “Is it possible to have charges dropped?

A peace bond is when an accused person agrees to put up some amount of money (usually $1000 to $3000) and follow certain court-ordered conditions (usually for 12 months) in exchange for the crown prosecutor dropping the original criminal charge. A peace bond can be a great way to resolve your matter without having to enter a guilty plea or go to trial. I have several FAQs on peace bonds, including one titled: “What is a peace bond?”.