Frequently Asked Questions
Whether you’ve just been charged, arrested, or going to court, we know you have questions. If you don’t see your question below, please do not hesitate to send us an email. We are here for you during this difficult time and want to help.
Generally speaking, the answer is going to depend on whether or not you are a suspect:
- If you are a suspect, and police believe they have grounds to arrest you, you’ll want to arrange to attend the relevant police station to be arrested and processed. Failing to do so will likely result in police seeking a warrant for your arrest, and executing that warrant at your home or workplace.
If this is the case, then you need to speak with a criminal defence lawyer right away. You will be given the opportunity to speak with one at the station, but being able to speak to one from your own home will likely give you a chance to find a lawyer you’re comfortable with and to really appreciate the advice that lawyer is giving you.
- If you are a suspect, but police do not have grounds to arrest you, you need to be careful. Giving a statement to the police could provide them with the evidence they need to arrest you.
More importantly, you are not required to give a statement or even attend the station, unless otherwise required to do so by law.
If you want to make a statement, that’s okay; just do it through your lawyer to ensure your rights — and liberty — are protected.
- If you are not a suspect, but simply a witness to a crime, you should seriously consider speaking with police.
Police are tasked with enforcing our laws and keeping us safe. The more involved the community is, the better they become at performing their duties.
Ask the officer:
- Am I a suspect? If so, do you have the grounds to arrest me?
- If the officer’s answer is unclear, ask again, and continue to do so, until you are given a clear answer.
If you already set a date with the officer before asking these questions, call him or her back, leave a message or ask another officer. Remember: unless you’re otherwise required to do so by law, you don’t have to make a statement.
More importantly, your refusal to give a statement can’t be used against you.
Still not sure? Speak with a criminal defence lawyer.
If you have been arrested and released by police (as opposed to being held for a bail hearing before a Justice of the Peace or Judge for example), you should have been provided a multi-page document called an Undertaking.
In addition to setting out your release conditions (such as don’t contact this person; don’t go to this address etc.), this document will provide you with the details of your first court date including the day, time, courtroom, and address of the courthouse (first page under paragraph 4) and a date for fingerprinting and photographs if this hasn’t been done already (look on the second page at the bottom under paragraph 6). Remember: it is important that you alone appear for your fingerprinting/photographs and that you or your lawyer appear for your court appearance. Failing to do so will likely result in a warrant being issued for your arrest and this time, the police may hold you for the Court to decide whether or not you should be released.
All that said, you can rest easy knowing that your first court appearance is not a trial, nor is it the time or place where you make arguments about your charges. Moreover, if you have a lawyer (or paralegal where appropriate), you likely will not have to appear at your first, or subsequent court dates. In fact, if your charge is ultimately withdrawn, you may never have to take a step into a courthouse.
In London, Ontario, first appearances for adults are held in courtroom 4 by Zoom (youth first appearances are on Mondays in courtroom 1) with the court opening at 9:30 a.m.
At your first appearance in London, you or your agent will have to appear before a Justice of the Peace where you (or your agent) will then be given the option of having the charges against you read aloud and whether you would prefer your matter to proceed in one of two of Canada’s official languages: English and French. (Note that if you require an interpreter, you (or your agent) should notify the Justice of the Peace and the Court will ensure an interpreter is present for all your subsequent court dates.)
The next step will be to decide when your next court date is and what is expected to be accomplished before that appearance. Generally speaking, the next step will depend on whether or not you have a lawyer:
If you don’t have a lawyer and appear in person or with the help of duty counsel, the court will likely give you one to two weeks to find one. Consequently, a Justice of the Peace will expect you to have a lawyer by your next court date and be ready to move forward with your matter. If you don’t have a lawyer by your next appearance, a Justice of the Peace may give you another week or two, but he or she will quickly lose patience and expect you to have a lawyer or represent yourself.
If you have a lawyer, oftentimes, he or she will ask for a few weeks for the Crown to provide disclosure (all the information the Crown is relying on to support the charges against you). Obtaining this information can take some time so be prepared for a few court dates over the span of two or three months just to ensure you have full disclosure.
Don’t be scared to speak with another lawyer. If cost is a major concern, there are a number of criminal defence lawyers that will provide you with a free consult, including those participating in the Law Society of Ontario’s Referral Service. There you will be able to find lawyers and paralegals in your geographic area that have committed to providing you with a free consult for up to 30 minutes. You can find this service at https://lso.ca/public-resources/finding-a-lawyer-or-paralegal/law-society-referral-service
The same thinking applies, even when you have already retained a lawyer: Speak with another lawyer.
When you speak with a new lawyer, be upfront about your situation and your concerns. You may find that the new lawyer shares your existing lawyer’s opinion, or he or she may have a completely different take. If the latter is the case, speak with your existing lawyer about the situation and the possibility of ending your professional relationship with him or her.
Most of the time, your release terms will include a provision to allow you to visit the home to collect your belongings—on one occasion and with a police officer present. If that’s the case, simply call the police service that covers the area where the home is located (which may not be the same police service that arrested you) and arrange for a day and time to gather your belongings.
If not, then you will need to go to court to replace or change your release order to include such a term.
- DO NOT contact your partner directly or have a family member or mutual friend do so on your behalf to arrange to grab your things.
- You are likely under a no-contact order, that includes both direct and indirect communication, and doing so will be a breach or your release terms. Your partner can report it to police and you will likely be re-arrested. If police released you on the original charge, they may now hold you “overnight” to be brought before a Justice of the Peace or Judge.
This is a difficult situation that people accused of domestic assault may face. In order to protect the spouse making the allegation from further violence and intimidation, police and courts will often place conditions on the accused forbidding him or her from returning to the home and contacting their partner.
Regardless of whether the allegations are true, the accused must now find a new place to live and face the prospect of not being able to see their kids. What’s more, these restrictions will remain in place often until the charges are resolved.
What can you do?
A criminal court is highly unlikely to vary your terms to allow you to live in the same house as your partner or to speak with him or her, even if it is strictly to make arrangements with the kids.
Consequently, you need to speak with a family lawyer.
A prudent officer or judicial official will include a provision in your release terms that will allow a family court order to vary the relevant conditions. This family court order can then give you access to your children by creating a schedule, and allow a third-party (usually an agreed-upon family member) to pick up and drop off the children.
If no family court order exception was included in your terms of release, you can request that the Crown consent to including such a provision (where again, it can be “rubber-stamped” by a Justice of the Peace or Judge) or request a hearing. Unless there is a substantial concern for the safety of the children, including such a provision is unlikely to be opposed.
Simply put, no. Let’s put aside for the moment that defending against criminal charges can get expensive, (a completely valid reason for why many people are reluctant to defend against a criminal charge) why should you not plead guilty at the first opportunity?
When you enter a guilty plea, the Crown will read a synopsis of the occurrence based on information provided by police. This can result in a one-sided story that puts the defendant in a terrible light being presented to the sentencing judge as fact. It’s important that you correct any meaningful inaccuracies and this should be done with the Crown outside of a courtroom, not in front of a judge.
You need to remember as well that the Crown reading in the synopsis will know little more about the case than what is written in that synopsis, especially if it is only your first or second court appearance. Therefore, they may argue for a much harsher sentence than they would if they had access to an attorney.
If police are asking you for a statement, it is important you speak with us, or another criminal defence lawyer first!