Depending on the charges, you may be released by the police after your arrest with a promise to appear in court and certain conditions that you must follow. This is not always the case, however. In certain circumstances, the police will keep you detained after your arrest. In such instances, you will be brought before a Justice of the Peace or Judge to determine whether you may be released pending your trial, and on what conditions you may be released. For most offences, the onus is on the Crown to show cause as to why you would have to remain in detention. A bail hearing is the process through which this determination is made. In order to protect your rights and ensure that you receive bail, it is crucial that you retain a criminal defence lawyer.
Bail conditions may be quite strict, and could potentially prevent you from carrying on with your life as you normally would. A bail variation application may be made in such instances to change some of the conditions that you need to abide by. A defence lawyer can help you with such an application.
After your release, but before a potential trial, your lawyer will have opportunities to either lessen the charges against you or have them dismissed entirely.
If you retain a criminal defence lawyer, you will not have to worry about your initial court appearances. Upon signing a designation, your lawyer may appear on your behalf and obtain disclosure for your charges.
Disclosure in such instances refers to all the evidence which the police have compiled against you in order to try and prove that you committed a certain offence. Often, the disclosure may involve hundreds and potentially thousands of pages of information. It is your lawyer’s job to sift through this disclosure.
Your initial disclosure will include a Crown Screening Form. This form essentially sets forth the sentence that the Crown is looking to impose; should you decide to plead guilty. Through a Crown Pre-trial (CPT) your lawyer may canvass the case with the Crown in order to lessen the charges against you or to enter you into a diversion program instead of continuing with the charges. In some instances, a Judicial Pre-trial may also take place, whereby a Judge weighs in on the discussion as well. Should you decide to retain a criminal defence lawyer, you would not need to be present for these discussions as your lawyer will act on your behalf.
In certain instances, a trial for your charges will not be necessary if the defence and the Crown can agree on a resolution. A resolution may take on several ‘forms’ including: a complete withdrawal of charges, an absolute or conditional discharge, a peace bond, probation or a fine. Some of these outcomes carry a criminal record, while some do not. Hiring a criminal defence lawyer is vital in order to ensure that you obtain an outcome which has as little impact on your future life as possible.
In those instances where a resolution is not possible, your case will proceed to trial. Depending on the seriousness of the charges, your case may be heard in the Ontario Court of Justice or Superior Court of Justice. If it is held in the latter, it may be in front of a judge alone or judge and jury.
At all stages of your trial, the burden will remain on the Crown to prove that you committed the offence that you were charged with. At this stage, it is your lawyer’s job to ensure that your Charter rights are protected while attempting to show that reasonable doubt exists with regards to your charges and your involvement.
If you are found innocent, your charges will be dropped. If found guilty, a sentencing hearing will need to be held.
A sentencing hearing is separate and apart from a trial, and requires a different approach. Having a criminal defence lawyer on your side can ensure that your sentence is the least serious one available.