What to Expect
For those encountering the criminal justice system for the first time, it can be an overwhelming and stressful period of time. By retaining counsel for your matter, we hope to help alleviate that stress and ensure you understand every step along with way. Here is a general explanation of the various steps you can anticipate once you have been charged:
If you have been held in custody pending Judicial Interim Release, the bail hearing is a vital part of your proceedings. The bail hearing will determine whether you will be detained in custody or released on terms set by the court. Legal representation is highly recommended for bail hearings, as your counsel will want to advocate for the least restrictive terms and conditions that are reasonable in the circumstances. Your lawyer will also be able to speak to your prospective sureties if the proposed plan of release requires supervision. Your bail remains in effect until your matters are ultimately disposed, so it is important you understand the conditions and consequences if you are found to be in breach of your bail. You will also want to discuss with your lawyer possible bail variations throughout your proceedings if your circumstances change or you require more flexibility than what your initial terms allowed.
If you were released by police at the time you were charged, you will be given a first appearance date to appear in person or have your counsel attend on your behalf. At this time, initial disclosure is often provided by the Crown (summarizing the evidence the Crown relies upon to prove the allegations against you). If you have retained counsel prior to your first appearance date, we will advise you whether or not your attendance is required. If you have not retained counsel, your attendance is mandatory, as your absence would result in a new offence of failing to attend court.
Issue Resolution Meeting (“IRM”)
After reviewing disclosure with you and understanding your perspective and concerns, your lawyer will meet with a Crown Attorney to discuss possible resolutions, disclosure issues, and issues for trial. Clients are not in attendance during this stage, however, your lawyer will meet with you after conducting the IRM to give you advice and seek your instructions. There may be one or multiple IRM’s, depending on the complexity of your matter(s).
Judicial Pre-Trial (“JPT”)
This is a court attendance where your lawyer and the Crown Attorney will attend judicial chambers and discuss your case with a judge. Issues discussed may involve possible resolution scenarios and sentencing ranges, disclosure issues, pre-trial motions and issues for trial. Your lawyer will advise you as to whether your attendance is required for the JPT. Once again, your lawyer will contact you to discuss the outcome of the JPT and seek your instructions.
A guilty plea can occur at any time throughout your proceedings, however, it is important to understand the charge(s) to which you plead guilty and the consequences of same. Upon receiving advice by your lawyer and you decide to plead guilty (as opposed to setting a trial date), then your lawyer will meet with the Crown to discuss the charge(s) to which you will plead and confirm what the Crown will seek for sentence. Your lawyer will advise you on the steps you can take prior to your plea to place yourself in the best position possible before appearing before your sentencing judge.
It is important to understand that the Crown has the onus to prove the allegations against you beyond a reasonable doubt. After reviewing the evidence and sharing information with your lawyer, you may ultimately decide to set a trial date. Depending on the complexity of your matter(s), a trial date can be a matter of a couple of hours to multiple days. You may also have the right to a preliminary hearing before a trial, but these are issues you will discuss with your lawyer. Upon conclusion of your trial, the trier of fact (Judge or Jury) will determine whether or not the Crown has proven some, all, or none of the offences for which you have been charged. If you have been acquitted, your matter is complete without a criminal conviction or sentence. If you have been found guilty of some or all of the offences, your matter will proceed to sentencing.
There is a wide range of sentencing provided for in the Criminal Code of Canada and case law, depending on the offence itself, the circumstances of the offence, the circumstances of the offender and the principles of sentencing outlined in the Criminal Code. Your lawyer will be able to inform you on the range of sentencing available in your set of circumstances and the information they will require for the sentencing hearing. There can be many consequences as a result of your sentence, and those issues should be discussed thoroughly between you and your lawyer prior to sentencing.