This article will help you understand the different stages of a criminal proceeding.
Normally, a person who has been arrested and charged with a Criminal Code offence may attend court multiple times before the actual trial. The accused may attend court for a bail hearing, to set a trial date, and for preliminary hearings or motions before the trial is conducted. If you plead guilty at any point, there won’t be a trial altogether.
Immediately after an arrest
Immediately after being arrested, you’re taken to the police station. The police may let you go home or keep you in custody. Either way, they must inform you of your rights and give you an opportunity to call a lawyer. It’s important that you get in touch with a lawyer as early as possible when charged with a criminal offence.
If you were held in custody, within 24 hours of your arrest, the police must take you before a justice of the peace for a bail hearing. During the bail hearing, the court will decide whether you can be released until your trial. You may have to call someone to sign as your “surety.” You often have to deposit money with the court to be released on bail.
Almost all bail releases come with conditions including an order for you not to contact the victim, leave town, consume alcohol, or carry weapons. It’s a crime to violate any of your bail conditions.
Sometimes, depending on the nature of the offence, the justice of the peace may not release you on bail. This means you will be kept in custody until your trial. Your lawyer can appeal this decision to a bail review court and try to get you released. More often than not, individuals get released on bail.
First appearance and set date
When you get released on bail, you get a paper that tells you when to show up in court again as your first appearance. During your first appearance, you stand before a judge and the judge will ask if you have got your disclosure. The disclosure package is the evidence that the Crown holds against you. You’re entitled to get disclosure and review it. The court may also inquire if you need an interpreter for future court appearances.
No trial date is generally set unless you, or your lawyer, have received disclosure to review. It may take a while for you to receive your disclosure package depending on how much evidence the Crown has.
The next time you appear in court is usually called the “set date” appearance, which is when you set a trial date.
In between these appearances, your lawyer may continue to speak with the Crown to see if a resolution can be reached, where you plead guilty to a lesser charge.
Preliminary hearings and motions
Before the trial, there could also be additional appearances to determine other things. These appearances are often called preliminary hearings or motions.
They are conducted to narrow the scope of your trial. For instance, a preliminary hearing may be held if your lawyer feels some evidence was obtained illegally and without a warrant and must not come into your trial. During the preliminary hearing, the judge will have to make a determination as to whether the evidence can come in or not. Another example is when a motion is brought to tell the court that you did not get a trial in a reasonable time and your charges must be tossed as a result because your Charter rights were compromised.
There may be other steps in between the above depending on what type of offence you have been charged with.
Being convicted of a criminal offence creates a criminal record. Most offences come with fines and jail terms. It’s important to consult with a lawyer. If you can’t afford one, you can apply to the legal aid office of your jurisdiction, and they will appoint a lawyer for you free of charge if you qualify.
The Criminal Case: Step-by-Step
Preliminary Inquiry definition