Understanding the criminal justice system – A handbook for defendants


Facing criminal charges means you are thrown into a complex system that seems bewildering. Understanding key processes, players, and stages will help demystify the path ahead with charges against you. Equip yourself to navigate the criminal justice landscape more confidently by using this handbook overview of what to expect and how to advocate for yourself along the way. Long before charges are formally laid, police build a case establishing reasonable grounds to arrest a suspect. They may employ informants, conduct surveillance or sting operations, interview witnesses under caution, or use search warrants to seek evidence. If they contact you as a person of interest, you are not obligated to answer questions without legal representation. Evidence collected supports an eventual indictment.

Under arrest & detention

Upon arrest, police may bring you into custody for an interview or release you on condition to appear in court soon after. You maintain the right to remain silent and contact counsel under the Charter. Officers decide initially whether to release or detain you pending your bail hearing within 24 hours where jail remains possible pre-trial. Despite police threats, never admit guilt to police or jeopardize your brampton criminal defence law firm by admitting guilt.

Bail hearings happen shortly after arrest where the court determines interim release eligibility. The onus falls on your lawyer to argue why detention isn’t justified and for you to demonstrate a willingness to obey terms like depositing cash, respecting curfews, avoiding victims/witnesses, or attending counseling. Strict bail compliance is mandatory under the pain of further charges so take conditions seriously. Breaching bail risks revocation and pre-trial incarceration.

Collecting disclosure

Your lawyer formally requests full disclosure of the prosecution’s case against you including police occurrence reports, witness statements, media evidence, physical exhibits analysis reports, and more to build your defence. This pivots focus towards challenging inconsistencies and technicalities around evidence legality, chain of custody, testing methodology, or contradictory accounts. Wise defendants work diligently with counsel to exploit disclosure advantages.

Many cases end by negotiating a plea bargain to mitigate sentencing exposure rather than pursuing a trial. Your lawyer leverages disclosure issues, exclusionary rule arguments, or reasonable doubt creation in back-and-forth with the Crown Attorney. Consider admissions or joint submissions allowing the judge to impose lighter, more proportionate consequences to reckon for your role. Weigh compromise benefits against the risks of losing an uncertain trial.

Preliminary inquiries

For serious offenses, your lawyer probes the prosecution’s theory of the case in a preliminary hearing before deciding whether to seek trial. By cross-examining witnesses presented, assessing their consistency and credibility while gauging how the evidence stacks up, counsel determines if a reasonable prospect of conviction or acquittal exists to advise advancing further. This mini-preview assists the defence immensely.

Before formally entering a plea and setting trial or hearing dates, your lawyer may request pretrial motions seeking various forms of legal relief. Common examples include applications to toss illegally obtained evidence under the Charter, obtain extra disclosure from third parties, request separate trials from co-accused, change venue due to unfair publicity jeopardizing a fair trial, or even dismiss charges outright due to unreasonable delay if your case has taken excessively long winding through the system.

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