6 things every criminal defendant can expect to receive

November 14, 2014

Nobody wants a stain on their record. If ever you're called upon to defend your name against criminal charges, here are six things you can expect to receive.

1. Counsel and language
All accused persons in Canada are entitled to legal representative, irrespective of their ability to pay. In that case, Legal Aid is there to help. You also have the right to be tried in either of the official languages, or to have a court-appointed translator in the event that you speak neither.
2. Fair, prompt process
An accused has the right to stand trial, per the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, "within a reasonable time" after the initial arrest. But since courts are famous for their glacial pace, how long is that in practice? For less serious crimes, eight to 10 months is reasonable, with another six tacked on if the crime is serious. Only individual adjudications may determine whether a delay was reasonable or not.
3. Right to bail
Since there’s a considerable gap between being officially charged and undergoing a trial, the court makes a decision whether you may be released on your own recognizance. You have a right to demand that option, and it’s normally granted in cases where your risk of flight is deemed low. In other cases, pre-trial freedom may be gained by posting bail, which is a cash bond designed to ensure your attendance in court. In very serious matters, bail may be waived and you must wait for trial in custody — though time served before sentencing will be considered in the final outcome.
4. Trial by a jury of your peers
With certain serious charges, such as when penalties are five years in prison or worse, you may elect trial in Provincial Court by a judge alone, in Superior Court by a judge alone, or in Superior Court by a judge and jury. This choice occurs prior to a plea and is a textbook case of when you absolutely should procure qualified legal advice.
5. Presumption of innocence
Jurisprudence’s most critical right is that you don’t have to prove innocence in court, and it’s presumed at the trial’s outset. The only burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that you’re guilty of the named crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, you may well have committed the crime, but if evidence before the court introduces even a scrap of doubt that cannot be refuted, the prosecution is obliged to dismiss the case.
6. Opportunity to appeal
Even if you’re found guilty, the legal system contains an important safeguard — the right to appeal the decision to a higher court. Replete with complications, this process represents yet another occasion where an experienced lawyer needs to steer the ship.

6 things every criminal defendant can expect to receive
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