I've been charged. What is my first step?
Retain a Lawyer!
When you find yourself in the situation where you are charged with a criminal offence, it is generally advisable retain a lawyer as soon as possible. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you should apply to Legal Aid to see if you qualify to receive the services of a lawyer.
Retaining a lawyer will ensure your matter is dealt with in the most efficient way possible. It is also the best way to ensure that your rights are being adhered to and that you understand the charges and processes you are now facing.
When is my first court appearance?
With some criminal offences, you may be required to attend at the police station to be fingerprinted. Depending upon how you were charged with a criminal offence, you may be fingerprinted immediately. If you are not fingerprinted by the police upon being charged, the police may set up a date for you to attend at a police station to be fingerprinted. This date is treated the same as a court date – you must attend, or you could be charged with a separate criminal offence of failing to appear for fingerprinting. A warrant may then be put out for your arrest. Needless to say, it is necessary for you to show up to get fingerprinted.
You will also be given a first court appearance date. This date will usually be approximately three to six weeks after you are charged. It maybe that with this initial court appearance, you have not yet retained a criminal defence lawyer to assist you. If you have retained a lawyer, in many circumstances your lawyer will appear at court on your behalf, and your matter will usually be adjourned at least one additional time for you to receive disclosure from the crown.
You may be provided with disclosure prior to your first court appearance. Disclosure is the evidence that the crown has with regard to your charge. It is important to review, or have your lawyer review your disclosure before you make any decisions about how to proceed. You simply cannot evaluate the case against you unless you are aware of the evidence against you.
Will I be released from custody?
Depending on the nature of your charges and how serious they are, you may or may not be released from custody. With less serious criminal charges, or with criminal charges where you are not an imminent threat to someone’s safety or the public’s safety, you will often be released without ever having been taking into custody. In many of these circumstances, you will have conditions that you need to abide by, such as a condition requiring that you have no contact with the complainant. It is important to ensure that you abide by these conditions, or you may be charged with an additional criminal charge for breaching the terms of your release.
If you are not released upon being charged, the police have 24 hours from the arrest to bring you before a justice of the peace, or in the event that one is not available, as soon as possible. A justice of the peace may then conduct a bail hearing, with either your lawyer in attendance or often with the assistance of duty counsel. In some circumstances, it may be tactically beneficial to wait more than the 24 hours to conduct a bail hearing, so that your lawyer has an opportunity to assist you in coming up with a proper release plan and effective legal arguments.
In the event you are not released after a bail hearing, you stay in custody pending a guilty plea, trial, or other resolution of your charges. Or, you may have the opportunity to have your detention reviewed at a higher court, essentially, another chance to try to secure your release.
How can I negotiate resolution of my charges with the crown?
As your criminal defence lawyer, I will often set up a meeting with the crown prosecutor after reviewing disclosure so that we can discuss “early case resolution” or ECR. This is an opportunity for me to present your case to the crown, to point to frailties in the crown’s evidence, and to show the crown any steps you have taken to address the underlying issues which may have led to the charges. Often, I am able to convince the crown to withdraw charges outright, or to offer the lowest possible penalty.
Of course, if you do not want to proceed with a guilty plea, you have the right to proceed with a trial of your matter. ECR meetings are simply an opportunity to discuss with the crown, without prejudice, the circumstances surrounding your offence. It is often one of the best ways to resolve a charge at the early stages, often without a criminal conviction.
When do I enter a plea?
If your charge is proceeding with either a guilty plea or to trial, you will need to enter a plea. You will typically not enter a plea until you are certain of your path forward. This usually will come after reviewing the disclosure of the crown.
If you are choosing to plead guilty, you will likely want to enter a guilty plea in a timely fashion. However, in many cases this will be after you have completed counselling or courses to ensure you receive the best possible sentence. Of course, this will depend entirely on your personal circumstances and the offences you are facing. Sometimes a plea is entered early but the sentencing is adjourned for certain reports to be ordered. For example, if you suffer from mental health issues your lawyer might want to order a Forensic Assessment Outpatient Service (FAOS) report. There are also other reports such as a pre-sentence report or a Gladue report, which can often assist in the court determining the appropriate sentence for you.
If you have decided you would like to proceed with a trial, then at a docket court appearance you will enter a not guilty plea and set a date for the trial. In most cases, trial dates are set for several months down the road. The timing of your trial will depend on the availability of the court, crown, any witnesses and your lawyer.
How do I prepare for a trial?
Before you get to trial, you will need to make an election as to how you want to be tried. An election is not always available, that is, you may required to proceed to trial at Provincial Court and you may not have the choice to have a trial at the Court of Queen’s Bench.
Depending on your charges and what mode of trial you elect, you may also be eligible to have a preliminary inquiry. This is essentially a mini trial, where the complainant or other witnesses will testify, and I will have an opportunity to cross-examination them. This usually has value for you when you proceed to your actual trial, insofar as the complainant’s story often changes and this will affect his or her credibility.
Proper preparation of your trial will include determining what defences are available to you, and what the best path forward will be for arguing them. Oftentimes, defences are legally complex and require research, this is one of the many reasons why it is best to retain a lawyer.
You will also need to decide whether or not you will be taking the stand and testifying as to your version of events. This will be a strategic decision, which you will often make on the advice of your lawyer. I have years of experience with criminal trials, often securing not guilty verdicts for my clients, leaving them without criminal convictions. I will tirelessly prepare for your trial, ensuring that all possible defences are put forward.
What happens after a trial?
A trial can be as short as a few hours, or as long as many weeks or months. At the end of each trial, the judge or jury will return a verdict of either guilty or not guilty.
In some instances where you have a judge-alone trial, the judge may reserve his judgement. This means that the judge would like time to deliberate on the evidence. In these cases, you will set a new court appearance for the return of the judge’s decision. This could be within a few days, or it could be a few months down the road.
Similarly, a jury may take only a few minutes to return a verdict, or they may take several days. It is their opportunity to review all of the evidence.
If you are found “not guilty” of the criminal charges you faced at trial, then the matter is over. You will no longer be bound by conditions relating to your release in respect of the charges, and you will not have a criminal conviction on your record.
If you are found “guilty”, the matter will proceed to sentencing. As discussed earlier, sentencing many be adjourned or put over to another court date for the ordering of reports. Depending on the nature of your circumstances and charges, my job is always to argue for the lowest possible sentence. This applies even if you are found guilty after trial. Sentencing can be legally complex and often requires extensive legal research.
Call me, Susan Karpa, an experienced criminal defence lawyer.
In any situation where you are facing a criminal charge, there will be dozens of decisions to make and questions to be answered. It is important to retain the services of a criminal lawyer like myself, who has the experience to properly advise you and advocate for your rights.
Regardless of the charges you face, I have the skill and knowledge to defend you or resolve your matter so that it has the least impact on your personal life. Call me and we can discuss your matters and the path forward.