What is a criminal charge?
An allegation that a person has a broken a law contained in either the Criminal Code of Canada, the Controlled Drugs and Subtances Act, or the Youth Criminal Justice Act are the most common ways a person becomes an accused before the court.
How does the criminal process start?
The process starts with a person being arrested. A person can only be arrested if they are suspected of a crime.
- The police will arrest and tell you what you are charged with or suspected of.
- They will tell you of your rights once you are arrested.
- YOU SHOULD EXERCISE THESE IN ORDER TO PROTECT YOURSELF!
After the police have arrested someone and charged them with an offence, they may release the accused person directly with some conditions, bring an accused before a Justice of the Peace for bail hearing where the accused can be represented if he has retained a lawyer, or arrange for a bail hearing in Provincial Court.
What happens after that?
If the Accused has retained a lawyer, the lawyer will obtain disclosure of the prosecution file. This will include police reports, witness statements, any video or voice recordings, and any other type of evidence that the prosecutor intends to rely on for the trial.
Once that is available, the Accused and their lawyer may have to make decisions on whether to proceed directly to trial in Provincial Court or to Superior Court with a Preliminary Hearing, or to enter a guilty plea.
How do I retain a lawyer?
A retainer is the money the client deposits in the lawyerâs trust account to cover the fees for his ongoing defence. Fees are usually set early with the client, depending on the clientâs instructions, the complexity and duration of the case and the expertise and experience of the lawyer.
Can a complainant (the person whose complaint to the police has led to the accused person being charged) withdraw the charge, or decide that they have changed their mind and end the prosecution?
No. In Canada, it is the police that lay charges, not individuals. Only the Crown prosecutor can decide whether and how to proceed with the charges once the police have arrested and charged someone.
What is the effect of entering a guilty plea, or being convicted after trial?
If a guilty plea is entered, it means there will not be a trial, so that the Crown Prosecutor will not have to prove there was a criminal offence committed by the accused â the accused will have admitted it.
If the accused person has a trial, and t the conclusion, the judge finds the person guilty and convicts him or her, the Accused will be sentenced and generally have a criminal record
What kinds of sentences can an accused person expect?
The scale of punishments for criminal offences progresses from discharges, suspended sentences, probation, fines, and incarceration. Sometimes a court will order repayment of monies alleged to have been stolen, or financial payment for damages caused as a result of an offence.
Some offences carry minimum punishments; usually a specified minimum jail term. This means that if you are found guilty, the judge has no choice but to sentence you to the minimum penalty.
What happens at trial?
In order to prove the guilt of a person beyond reasonable doubt, the Crown Prosecutor will call witnesses to give evidence to the Judge or to the Jury deciding the case. After the evidence is complete, the court will decide whether the Accused is guilty or not guilty.
Do I need a lawyer to defend myself if I am charged?
NO. Anyone can represent themself before the Courts. Most persons prefer to rely on a lawyer for the same reason most patients prefer the assistance of a doctor or dentist.
Some things are best done by a professional who concentrates on criminal charges and is experienced in the Courts and familiar with the trial process.
Why do lawyers most often advise accused/client to remain silent?
The police are generally not interested in hearing anything that goes against the way that they have chosen to investigate. It is very rare that anything an Accused person tells police will result in charges not going ahead. More frequently, the police record the comments of the accused and later try to rely on them in court to prove that the accused person was involved in the criminal activity.
If I did it, donât I have to plead guilty?
No. An Accused person is entitled to have the Crown Prosecutor prove the charge. No experienced criminal defence counsel will advise a client to plead guilty unless they are satisfied that the Crown can prove its case.
A guilty plea may be appropriate if it negotiated with the prosecution ahead of time. This sort of negotiation may result in less serious charges, a compromise on sentences, or withdrawal of some charges.