***The information provided in this article is meant to be used for informative purposes only and may, over time become outdated. To ensure accurate and up-to-date information, contact Murray Ralston Lawyers, located in Barrie and North Bay, and we would be happy to assist you.***
Being charged with a crime can be an extremely stressful time, however being informed about the process and knowing what to expect may help to alleviate some of the angst and uncertainty allowing you to focus on preparing a strong defence and ensuring an optimal outcome. This article provides a guideline of each step involved in the criminal process from the date of arrest to the date of sentencing.
Being arrested and charged with a criminal offense is a serious matter and may be a very stressful and difficult time for an accused person and for his/her family, especially when one is not informed about criminal law and the criminal court process. This is why being informed and understanding your legal rights is absolutely paramount when facing a criminal charge in order to ensure an optimal outcome. This article provides a general outline for what an accused person can expect from the time of the arrest to the time of sentencing.
Police Investigation and Laying of the Charge:
When a crime is committed, the police begin their investigation and start gathering evidence. After the investigation, should the police have sufficient grounds to believe that someone committed a crime, that person is formally ‘accused’ of the wrong doing in written document form, and an arrest warrant is issued, after which the accused person may be arrested and taken into custody.
Pre Trial Release:
After being charged, the accused is brought to the police station where he/she may be questioned by law enforcement officers. Depending on the circumstances, one of three events occur:
- the accused is released from the police station with bail conditions
- the accused is released from the police stations without bail conditions
- the accused is taken into custody and must be brought into court within 24 hours for a bail hearing – at which point in time a Justice of the Peace or Judge determines whether the accused person may be released on bail.
First Appearance & Assignment Court:
After bail has been dealt with, whether the accused is released or detained, he/she will have been given a date for him/her to appear in ‘assignment court’ for his/her ‘first appearance’. Several assignment court appearances (often 2-4) will follow to allow time to retain a lawyer (whether privately or by legal aid), and to receive all disclosure from the Crown.
Crown Resolution Meeting (Crown Pre Trials)After all disclosure is complete, or sufficient disclosure has been provided to allow the accused person to understand the case against them, the Crown will typically meet with the accused person’s lawyer to discuss the case. This meeting is referred to as a ‘Crown Resolution Meeting’ and is a precursor to scheduling a trial date or a guilty plea date. It is not common practice for a Crown to meet directly with the accused person to discuss the case, as this may create the risk of the accused person unintentionally providing the Crown with further evidence against himself/herself. It is therefore advisable for an accused person to retain a lawyer to discuss the case with the Crown on his/her behalf. After the Crown Resolution Meeting, the accused lawyer informs the accused of the discussions that took place and based on the information shared by the Crown, the lawyer and accused discuss what approach needs to be taken going forward (whether the accused will be proceeding with trial or will be entering a plea of guilt).
Judicial Pre TrialsShould the accused choose to proceed with trial, a Judicial Pre-Trial Meeting is scheduled. This is where discussions occur in Chambers or closed court between the accused person’s lawyer, the Crown Attorney and the Judge. This step is helpful, in that it often allows both parties to receive the objective opinion of the judge prior to trial. The purpose of a judicial pre trial is to have discussions, similar to those that occurred in the Crown Resolution Meeting, so that the Judge may assist in either narrowing the issues or, in the event of an impasse in negotiations, persuade the parties to resolve the case.
Preliminary Inquiries are formal proceedings that occur in court in order to determine whether there is sufficient evidence available to commit the accused person to stand trial on all the counts they have been charged with. They are not however, required in every case. They only occur in very serious cases or when the accused person or Crown requests one.
TrialAn accused person’s innocence or guilt is determined at trial. In Canada, the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, the onus is on the Crown to prove that the accused is guilty of a criminal offence, failing which the accused is found not guilty. Trials may be by way of Jury, by Judge and Jury, or by Judge alone. Only the most serious offences are tried by Jury. It is strongly recommended to retain legal representation for trial.
The judge or jury, depending on how the case is tried, delivers the verdict of whether the accused is found guilty or not guilty. If the accused person is found guilty, he/she is sentenced. However, if the accused person is found not guilty, he/she is acquitted.
Should the accused person be found guilty, he/she is sentenced. During sentencing, the judge is required to take into consideration various factors. It is crucial that the accused person is represented by a lawyer, as the lawyer may be able to effectively advocate for the accused person with respect to the various factors and ensure that the sentence received is proportional to the criminal offence committed.
Appeal:Both an acquittal and a verdict of guilt can be appealed by the Crown and Accused person respectively. This must be done within the limitation period. It is strongly recommended that an accused person speak to their lawyer to ensure such limitation periods are not missed.
Being apprised of the criminal process is a crucial first step in alleviating some of the angst involved with being charged with a criminal offence, and will allow the accused person to map out his/her plan of action well in advance - from the minute he/she is charged with a crime. It is advisable to retain counsel early on in a proceeding, prior to or during the ‘assignment court’ stage, as this ensures your right to receiving full disclosure is met, and that effective negotiations are made with the Crown Attorney regarding possible resolution and trial.