You’ve Been Charged With a Criminal Offense. Now What?

The criminal justice system in Ontario can be complex and confusing, especially for those charged with a criminal offense for the first time. Whether you’re looking to be prepared in case you’re charged or have been charged, this post will help guide you through the initial stages.

For most offenses, especially serious offenses, the police will both arrest and charge you. If you are arrested, the police will read you your rights, and take you to the police station to be fingerprinted and photographed.

You have a right to speak with a criminal lawyer

And to receive legal advice. You should consult a criminal lawyer as soon as you are able to. In some circumstances, you will only be charged and not arrested. If so, you will be given a date to report to a police station for fingerprinting and photographing and a date to appear at court to set a trial date.

Ontario Criminal Offense Types

Summary offense: 

  • Less serious
  • Trial will be in a provincial court before a judge (without a jury)

Indictable offense:

  • Serious crimes
  • Accused may be able to choose which court will hear the case, including whether there will be a jury

Bail in Ontario

Bail allows those charged and arrested to be released from police custody, usually by paying money as a deposit to the court and with certain conditions. Those detained for a criminal offence have a right to a bail hearing within one day. The judge at a bail hearing will consider many factors when deciding whether an individual is fit to be released from custody. These factors include the seriousness of the offence, past criminal records and whether or not the individual is a danger to the public.

You should always be represented by a criminal defence lawyer at a bail hearing.

 First Appearance Court

The “Crown” refers to the government lawyers who will prosecute criminal cases. It is the responsibility of the Crown to fulfill disclosure – the sharing of what information or evidence they will be using to prosecute your criminal case. Typically this is done at your first appearance in court.

At the date of your first appearance in criminal court, the Court will have a docket that will list all the individuals required to attend that day and their charges. When your name is called, you will go to the front of the courtroom to address the judge or justice of the peace. You will be asked to confirm your name and if you understand what you are charged with. You will then be asked what you want to do with your case.

From here, there are options about what happens next and each option will chart a different course for what happens after this first appearance in court. For example, you can tell the judge you’re seeking more information from the Crown or that you’d like to have a trial (in which case a trial date will be set) or you tell the judge you plan to plead guilty to your charges.

There are many factors and variables in every criminal offense charge, case and trial. You should receive advice from a criminal lawyer throughout the process to ensure you achieve the best possible outcome