If you face criminal charges, you need good legal advice right away. You are vulnerable, you are under stress, and you may make a big mistake without a lawyer to advise you.
I have practised criminal law from all three positions in a courtroom: those of the judiciary, the prosecution, and the defence. On the judicial side, I advised judges at two courts on the decisions to render in a variety of criminal and quasi-criminal cases. As a Crown prosecutor, I addressed charges ranging from minor to very serious. Now I exclusively serve people like you—people who want to protect themselves and achieve the best result. I have helped to defend people facing charges as serious as murder.
Call for an initial consultation. I can attend your bail hearing if necessary, work out a strategy for your defence, advise you on what to do, and take any other measures needed to protect your rights and interests.
What should I do if I am arrested?
First, do not talk to the police until you have spoken with a lawyer. Making statements to the police will rarely help you but will often hurt you, because your statements may be used against you at trial or in other parts of the criminal proceedings. Many of my clients have ruined their cases by making careless statements that were used against them later.
The police may ask you questions, but you do not have to answer; you may say simply “I have nothing to say”. That is not rude. You have the right to remain silent, and in general you should do so unless a lawyer advises you otherwise.
You should exercise your right to speak privately with a lawyer. When you are arrested, you may speak to a lawyer by telephone free of charge, with an interpreter if necessary. You may also speak with the lawyer of your choice.
- The police may release you, or you may be offered a bail hearing. See this page on bail.
I admit it: I’m guilty!
No, actually, you are innocent at this point. Whatever you may have done, whatever may have happened, you are innocent until proven guilty in court.
You may feel guilty about some act without being guilty in law. Your act may not be criminal at all. You may have a sound defence. The prosecution may be unable to meet the high burden of proving your guilt. You may be able to mount a constitutional challenge to some part of the criminal process or even to the law itself. Rather than concluding that you are guilty, consult a good defence lawyer.
Do not admit guilt yet! Again, do not speak to the police without getting legal advice. Instead, discuss your charges with a capable lawyer. You may eventually decide to plead guilty, but take legal advice before committing yourself.
Will I get a criminal record?
Many minor charges, such as ordinary traffic tickets or violations of municipal bylaws, are not criminal. You can be punished for them (often with a fine), but they will not result in a criminal record.
All charges listed in the Criminal Code or in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and some other charges as well, are criminal. If you are convicted of them, you can expect to acquire a criminal record.
Convictions before age 18 go onto a youth criminal record, which is generally closed after a few years—but it can become part of the permanent adult criminal record if the youth is convicted of subsequent crimes. Convictions from age 18 on form part of a permanent criminal record that can be eliminated only by a pardon, which is not easy to get.
A criminal conviction has consequences far beyond the sentence itself. With a criminal record, you may not be allowed to travel to other countries, including the United States. Finding work may be difficult. You may be excluded from many of the most desirable professions and courses of study. If you are not a Canadian citizen, you may be deported from Canada.
Fortunately, you may be able to avoid a criminal record even if you have done something wrong. Schedule an initial consultation to discuss your options.
Will I go to jail?
If you have just been charged, your charges are nothing but unproven allegations at this point. You cannot be sent to jail or otherwise be punished unless a court finds you guilty. You will have the opportunity to defend yourself before a court decides whether you are guilty or not. Even if you are eventually found guilty, you may well not go to jail. Imprisonment is the punishment of last resort; a court can order it only if no milder sentence is adequate.
When you are arrested, you may be kept in a cell for a short time, usually no more than 24 hours, until you can appear before the court and possibly ask to be released. Remember that you still have not been found guilty of the offences alleged. Many people are detained for a few hours and then released on bail.
If you face a real risk of imprisonment, you should get help from a lawyer. You may be able to avoid a conviction, avoid imprisonment, or obtain a milder sentence than what you could achieve on your own.
Do I need a lawyer?
If you are charged only with minor, non-criminal offences punishable by no more than a fine, you may be willing to handle them without a lawyer. If you are charged with criminal offences, however, you would be wise to get legal advice, and probably to have a lawyer represent you.
The government has far more resources than you. It has assigned at least one lawyer to prosecute your criminal charges. Most likely you need a lawyer of your own to represent you. Even a lawyer charged with crimes would probably hire a lawyer.
If you are not a Canadian citizen, you may be deported if you are convicted of a crime. A lawyer can help to preserve your status in Canada. Likewise, if a criminal conviction could cost you lose your professional licence, you may consider the risk great enough to justify retaining counsel.
What will you do for me?
When you consult me for legal advice, our discussions and anything that you write for me are privileged and confidential. You should speak freely and honestly with me. I will not judge you or think ill of you.
Our initial consultation, in person or by telephone, should last an hour or so. Please bring any documents that you have received from the police; we shall review them together and discuss anything that you have to do, such as appearing in court or having fingerprints taken on a certain date. If possible, please also bring a written statement of what you remember about the events, before and after you were arrested. Please include as much detail as you can recall. If you have received disclosure from the Crown, please bring it as well.
We shall spend most of our first meeting discussing you, your background, and the events leading to your charges. I need to know the details so that I can most effectively defend you. I also need to know whether you need bail or anything else right away. Your safety and your release from custody are my immediate concerns.
Once I have heard your version of the events, learnt a bit about your background, and reviewed any disclosure or other documents, we discuss my assessment of the charges and your options for addressing them. I may be able to give only preliminary advice until I have seen the Crown’s evidence and perhaps spoken to some witnesses; however, after this meeting and every other meeting with me, you will know what I plan to do next and also what you should and should not do.
How we proceed depends on the circumstances. I may be able to persuade the prosecutor to drop the charges or otherwise halt the prosecution. Sometimes, if you wish, I can negotiate a way to resolve the charges without your being convicted or acquiring a criminal record. If you wish to plead guilty, I can help you to negotiate a light sentence, perhaps even a discharge (which removes the conviction). You decide what to do.
The vast majority of cases are resolved without a trial. If your case does proceed to trial, we should both feel that you have a compelling defence. I shall go to court with a plan, including a theory of the case that supports an acquittal (a finding that you are not guilty). I shall also be prepared to raise any constitutional challenges, procedural issues, objections to the admissibility of evidence, and other points that will support the defence.
In the event of a conviction, I can advocate the lightest possible sentence, including a possible discharge, and also consider appeals and other measures.