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Criminal Law

Question:

I have been charged by the police with committing a crime. I did it. Do I need a lawyer to represent me in court, or should I just go to court and plead guilty?

Answer:

It is always a good idea to be represented by a lawyer when you go to court. Just because you say you "did it" does not mean a judge is going to find you guilty of the offence.

The starting point with any criminal matter is that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty. It is up to the Crown Attorney to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person is guilty of the offence which they are alleged to have committed.

If you have a lawyer, that lawyer will contact the Crown Attorney's office and obtain what is known as "disclosure". This is a complete record compiled by the police and any other investigative agency regarding the crime which you are alleged to have committed. Typically this disclosure will include such things as police officer notes, witness statements, photographs, test results, and anything else the police may have gathered in the course of their investigation. The lawyer will review this with you to see if the account of the incident as formulated by the police is actually what happened. The lawyer will then explain to you what possible defences you may have to the charge.

For example, if you have been charged with committing an assault, and you really did hit the person without their consent, then the Crown may have a case against you. However, you may have been defending yourself, defending someone under your care, or defending your home. These are all defences that could be raised on your behalf at a trial. If a judge were to agree that you did have one of these defences available to you, then you should be found not guilty.

Having a criminal record can have long-lasting repercussions. For example, it may prevent you from obtaining certain forms of employment, or from travel, or from other sorts of activity. Pleading guilty at an early stage, without the benefit of having a lawyer, may be a very serious mistake, which only becomes apparent to you later in your life.

If after consulting a lawyer you do plead guilty, or you are found guilty at trial, then a defence lawyer can assist you with respect to a fit and proper sentence. He or she will consider your individual circumstances and the circumstances of the offence and will suggest a sentence to the judge that is fit and proper in the circumstances. From the point of view of the Crown Attorney (and the judge), the sentence should deter an offender from committing an offence again, and should also deter others in the community who would consider committing similar offences. They also will consider assistance in rehabilitating an offender, providing some reparation for harm done to the victim or to the community, and promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders.

Sentences can range from an absolute discharge, which means the offender has no criminal record and does not have to serve any form of probation, all the way to imprisonment in a Federal jail for life. Between these two extremes, it is possible that an offender may be fined, put on probation, given a conditional sentence, or sentenced to a shorter period of jail. If placed on probation, a wide range of conditions may be imposed upon an offender. Again, your lawyer can discuss these with you and suggest a fit and proper sentence. Often the lawyer will have a discussion with a Crown Attorney regarding a sentence, and will suggest to the Crown Attorney that the sentence your defence lawyer is suggesting is one that is reasonable and should be supported by the Crown.

The criminal law process can be intimidating, and it can also be very confusing. Criminal defence lawyers have experience with the courts and with the procedures involved, and can guide a client through a very serious situation. For an accused to try and do this "on their own" may lead to a bad result.

muttarts law firm
Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada
t. 902.678.2157 • f. 902.678.9455

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