I have been charged. What are my options?

After you are charged

When the Police charge you, they give you apiece of paper called an “Appearance Notice”. This document outlines when your next court date will be along with the time and location. It may also have a date for you to get your fingerprints taken.

Every time you are charged, you must have your fingerprints done to confirm you are the proper person being charged. It is important to keep track of these dates because if you miss them, you may be charged with failing to appear or worse, a warrant for your arrest.

First Appearance

Almost everyone charged with an offence must go to Court. At your first appearance, the Judge will ask you if you want the charge read to you. If you are sure you know what you’ve been charged with, you may choose to “waive the reading”, which means the Judge will not read it to you. The Judge will then ask you if you understand the charge. If you don’t, the Judge will explain it.

The Judge will also ask you if you are ready to enter a plea (i.e., guilty or not guilty), or if you need time to talk to a lawyer. At your first appearance, the court will usually grant an adjournment.

If you speak to the Judge, you should call him or her, “Your Honour”.

If you want a lawyer to help you and you are able to contact one before you go to Court, it may help you to deal with your charges faster and possibly reduce the number of times that you are required to appear in Court, in person.

Representation or Legal Assistance

Every person has the right to a lawyer. If you can afford a lawyer, you can contact one and hire them privately.

If you are not able to retain a lawyer privately, Legal Aid may be able to assist you if your charges are serious enough to potentially lead to time spent in jail, or if there are other factors making it difficult for you to represent yourself. You can contact Legal Aid Alberta by calling 1-866-845-3425 and they will tell you what office to call, or visit the Legal Aid website and follow the directions. Your eligibility for Legal Aid is based on your financial status and the type of charge. If you qualify, a lawyer will be assigned to your case.

Agents - There are people who may appear for your as an “agent”. These are not legally trained lawyers and often charge similar fees as lawyers.

Agents are not regulated in criminal court and if you are not satisfied with their service you cannot report them to the Law Society of Alberta because they are not lawyers. Exercise caution and ask about their qualifications before hiring them as they are not regulated and very often, not able to represent your case like a lawyer or law student.

In Custody

Show Cause/Bail Hearing

If you are not released by the Police or Justice of the Peace (aka: “JP”) after initially getting charged, you will need to have a show cause or bail hearing. This is done at your first appearance or as soon as counsel can arrange this hearing. The Judge makes the decision based on several factors.

Firstly, whether or not you will show up for Court; Secondly, whether or not you will reoffence while on bail; and, Thirdly, the Judge may or may not give you bail if he/she believes releasing you would cause the Public to lose faith in the Justice System if you were released. This is not commonly used except in very serious charges or where the person is a repeat offender or on release and commits serious crimes.

Bail Hearing

At the hearing the Crown Prosecutor presents evidence to the Judge, the alleged facts of your involvement in the offence which you were charged. Sometimes these alleged facts seem different then what happened and sometimes you may disagree with the Crown Prosecutor. Fortunately your lawyer has an opportunity to tell your version of the facts to the Judge as well as things about you that help the Judge understand things about you (for instance: your current employment, level of education, family situation, character reference letters, where you will be living if released, etc.) to allow he or she to decide if you can released.

The Judge can release you with or without conditions that you must agree to follow. If you do not agree with the conditions, you will be held in custody until your trial date. Your lawyer will be asked by the Judge about the conditions and they an assist you in finding conditions that you are able to follow.

The Judge may also detain you and refuse your bail. If this happens, you will need to appeal this decision to the Court of Queen’s Bench. Though this can be done as quickly as 2 says, it may take more then that to get the proper materials (i.e.: court paperwork, transcripts of your bail hearing in Provincial Court, Crown & Court schedule, etc.)

Regardless of if you released or detained, the Court will set a new date for you to appear to ensure the Crown Prosecutor’s Office provides you with your disclosure.

Types of Offences

In Canada, there are three types of offences:

Summary Offence - These are similar to misdemeanours in the United States or like you sometimes see on television. These are minor offences or more serious crimes that the Crown has decided should attract a less serious penalty if you are convicted.

Indictable Offence - These are the most serious offences referred to as “felonies” in the United States. They have the most serious consequences, however, in most cases, you can decide which Court should hear the case. In some instances, you may be eligible for a Preliminary Inquiry which is a hearing to determine if case should even go to Trial. Your lawyer can give you advise about which procedure is best for your case.

Dual or Hybrid Offence - These offences can be prosecuted either summarily (less serious) or by Indictment (more serious). Dual or Hybrid means the Crown Prosecutor decides which method of penalty they are seeking.

Continue to going to court

*The foregoing information is for general educational purposes and is not meant to be used as advice with respect to the conduct of any case or proceeding against an individual. Please contact our office to discuss your case, and at that time, we can offer you the best legal advice for your specific situation.