What is pre-charge advice in criminal law?


Yes, a criminal lawyer can help you before you are charged. Advice that you receive from a criminal defence lawyer before you are actually charged with a criminal offence is called “pre-charge advice”, and good pre-charge advice can only help you. The right pre-charge advice may be what ultimately protects you from being convicted of a criminal offence – and, in some cases, it may even protect you from being charged in the first place. The pre-charge advice you need depends on your circumstances. As a criminal defence lawyer, I often have people come to me for pre-charge advice in the following situations:

  • They know or suspect that there is an active warrant for their arrest.
  • Someone they know has accused them of a crime, such as sexual assault or domestic assault, but they do not yet know whether the alleged crime has been reported to the police.
  • Someone has reported to the police that they have committed a crime, but they have not yet been contacted by the police.
  • The police have contacted them, asking them to provide a statement, or to “give their side of the story”
  • The police have contacted them to set up an arrest by appointment.
  • The police have arrested them and released them without charges – for now.
  • They have done something that they think might be a crime, but they are not sure. Sometimes, these people did not realize at the time that they might be committing a crime.
  • They have done something that they think may be misunderstood as a crime, and they want to know if there is anything they can or should do. 

Whatever the situation, your best bet is to be proactive by contacting an experienced criminal defence lawyer for pre-charge advice. When you are facing a possible criminal charge, the stakes are high, and time is of the essence. 

How do I know if i have been reported to the police?

In some cases, there may be no way to know whether you have been reported to the police. Some people want to call the police to see if they have charges. I usually recommend not doing that as it can lead to issues. I usually recommend contacting a criminal defence lawyer first to get legal advice.

As a criminal defence lawyer, I get this question all the time, and in many different situations. For example, maybe you had sex with someone, and now they are saying that it was not consensual – that you sexually assaulted them – but they are not saying whether they reported this allegation to the police. Or perhaps you got into a fight with your partner, things turned physical, they said that you uttered threats toward or assaulted them, they left, and you have not heard from them since. 

In these situations – and others – the alleged victim may report you to police tomorrow, ten years from now, or never. Not knowing whether you have been or will be reported can be incredibly nerve-wracking, and sometimes there is little you can – or should – do to find out. However, there are almost always ways that you can protect yourself, and ways that you can make things worse. Whether and how you respond to the allegation, what you say to other people about it, and whether you write down your memory of your side of the story and keep it in a safe place are all things that could impact your ability to defend yourself if you are eventually charged. That said, every situation is different.

If you find yourself in this stressful position, the best thing you can do is contact a criminal defence lawyer to help you explore your options.

What do I do if someone reported me to the police, but I have not yet been contacted?

This is the perfect example of when to talk to a lawyer. If the matter is already in the system, then a defence lawyer may be able to provide you with that information.

Chances are, if someone has reported to the police that you have committed or are committing a crime, the police are going to investigate that allegation and gather evidence against you. This often involves interviewing people, including you, or even placing you under police surveillance. If someone has reported you to the police but you have not yet been arrested, it is likely because the police are in that process of gathering evidence against you. What you do and say – especially to police – can impact whether you are eventually charged and, ultimately, whether you are convicted of a crime.

Just because the police have not yet contacted or arrested you, does not mean that they are not going to. If and when they do, you must be ready. Pre-charge advice from an experienced criminal defence lawyer can help you prepare, so that you do not incriminate yourself.

What do i do if the police ask me to give a statement?

Do not speak with the police before exercising your constitutional right to advice from a criminal lawyer.

There are several reasons why the police might ask you to speak with them, and they do not always tell you the reason right away. It may be because of something you witnessed or heard about. However, in my experience as a criminal lawyer, it is usually because they suspect you have committed a crime and they want you to help them prove it. If the police are vague about why they want to speak with you, or they tell you that they want to “give you an opportunity to give your side of the story”, then this is a strong sign that you are a suspect in the crime they are investigating. They want your side of the story so that they can use it against you.

The police will typically call you and ask if you are available at a certain date and time to come to the police station and give a statement. However, they may also show up at your residence or place of work. When they call to ask if you are available to speak with them, they often do so in a way that makes it seem like you have no choice – like you have to come meet with them and give a statement. If the police plan to arrest you to try to take a statement from you, which is typical, and you do not appear, then they may come to arrest you or issue a warrant for your arrest.

What do I do if the police set up an arrest by appointment?

Often, instead of coming to a person’s house and arresting them, the police will contact make contact to set up an “arrest by appointment”. If you receive this call, the police will tell you that if you do not attend this appointment, they will issue a warrant for your arrest and come arrest you themselves. The police do this for their own convenience, but also because it often allows them to get statements from people more easily.

I can only provide you with legal advice if I know the specifics of your case. If you have an arrest by appointment with an officer already set up, or if you have been contacted by an officer to set one up, I can assist with giving you advice beforehand. I can also be in touch with the officer to obtain further details about the arrest and the expectations.

How Should I answer Police Interview Questions?

There is no one right answer to this question, and I would need to know the specifics of your situation to give you legal advice about this. Police interviewers are trained in getting people to let their guard down, open up, and incriminate themselves. But that training does not work unless you let it. Do not give them anything to work with. Again, this is not me providing you with legal advice. I cannot do that unless I know your specific circumstances. But know that you have a constitutional right not to answer questions the police ask you about the alleged crime.

In many cases, the police will have already interviewed the complainant and other people who were involved in or witnesses to the incident before your arrest appointment. A common tactic that the police use in these meetings is to try to convince you that it is in your best interest to give your side of the story now so that the police will have a reason not to charge you. They take advantage of your vulnerable state and use your emotions against you to do this. They will usually start this by asking you if you have ever “been in trouble”; if you have ever “been to court”.

They probably know the answer already. They also know that – no matter what your answer is – you do not want to be in trouble or go to court now. They know that you were already stressed about the entire situation and wishing that you were not in it, and now you are focused on that stress. Now you are afraid, and perhaps desperate to find a way out of the situation. That is when they will give you a sliver of hope. They might tell you that they are “going to decide today whether to press charges”, that they have everyone else’s account of events, and that they “need to know your side of the story to decide whether to press charges”. Know that this is very often false hope.

What is the Difference Between a Charge and a Conviction?

Being charged with a criminal offence is the first step in the criminal justice process and usually occurs when the police arrest and release you, or simply charge you without an arrest. If you are charged, you will receive documentation or release papers that specify the offence(s) with which you have been charged and the specific illegal thing you are alleged to have done to make out that offence.

Remember, you are presumed innocent until found guilty, and you can only be found guilty if you plead guilty or the Crown prosecutor proves beyond a reasonable doubt – at trial – that you are guilty. 

What do I do if I have been arrested and released without being charged?

Sometimes the police will arrest someone, interview them, and decide to release them without charges. If you find yourself in this position, know that you may still be charged down the road.  In my experience as a criminal defence lawyer, the police often do this when they intend to eventually charge you, but they determine that they need to gather more evidence first. However, there are cases where charges are not ever laid. Each case is fact specific.

Like any situation where you do not know whether you will be charged, what you do and say is very important, and you have to be careful. The safest route is to contact a criminal defence lawyer for pre-charge advice. They will want to know what the police asked you and what you told them. If you are ultimately charged with the offence, the police are obligated to provide the crown prosecutor with the case against you, which ultimately gets disclosed to you or your criminal defence lawyer. That disclosure would include any recordings of and officer notes from your meeting with the officer.

How do I Know if I committed a Crime?

This is often a complicated question without a straightforward answer. If you are concerned that you may have committed a crime, the best resource you have is an experienced criminal defence lawyer.

Criminal law is complex, and misunderstandings about it are common. It is easy to Google whether something is a crime and find misleading information. Also, the law is not “black and white” – it is full of “grey areas”. Whether someone has committed a crime is going to depend on how the unique circumstances of their situation apply to the law, and the law is always changing and evolving. Also, whether it can be proven that someone committed a crime is often another question altogether and may be even more challenging to answer.

As a criminal defence lawyer, I often receive calls from people who have come to realize that they may have unknowingly committed a crime, such as fraud, and they want to know if there is anything they can or should do. I also have people coming to me for advice because they did something that they suspect will be misunderstood as a crime, and they want to know if they should get ahead of it. This pre-emptive approach allows me to provide pre-charge advice that enables people to insulate themselves from future criminal jeopardy. It also helps put people’s mind at ease. The uncertainty that comes with not knowing whether you committed a criminal offence can be torturous. Do not let it hang over your head. Speak with me today.