The Criminal Defence Court Process from Start to Trial

Being charged with a criminal offence for the first time can be confusing, overwhelming and frightening for you and your family. With so much at stake, including your freedom and reputation, an experienced criminal lawyer in Calgary can defend you vigorously if you are charged. At Dennis Kolba Criminal Law Office we will keep you informed about the progress of your case and will be with you every step of the way. We outline the main steps in the criminal court process below so you have some idea of what to expect when you are charged with a criminal offence.

Types of Offences

There are three types of offences: summary conviction, indictable offences and a hybrid of the two. Summary offences are considered the least serious of the three and they are heard in provincial court. Indicated offences are more serious and carry more substantial penalties. Hybrid offences can be prosecuted as either a summary conviction or an indictable offence, depending on the circumstances of the offence.

First Court Appearance

Regardless of which offence type you are charged with, your first court appearance will be in the Provincial Court in front of a Provincial Court Judge. During this appearance, your name and the charges against you will be read out. If you are charged with an indictable offence, you will be given the option of a Provincial Court Judge, a Queen’s Bench Justice with a jury or a Queen’s Bench Justice without a jury. If you select one of the latter two options, a preliminary hearing will be scheduled.

If you are charged with a summary conviction offence or another offence where you don’t need to make an election regarding the type of trial, you will be asked whether you plead guilty or not guilty. You can also request to “reserve” your plea to give you time to consult with a lawyer before entering a plea.

If you plead not guilty at the first court appearance, a trial will be scheduled.

Preliminary Hearing

For cases scheduled to be heard in front of the Queen’s Bench, a Preliminary Hearing in front of a Provincial Court Judge will be scheduled.

The purpose of the preliminary hearing, is for the judge to make a determination regarding whether there is enough evidence to justify sending the case for a full trial. If the judge makes a determination that there is insufficient evidence to proceed to trial, then the judge can discharge you at this stage.

Finding a Lawyer

If you do not have a lawyer at the first court appearance, speak with the duty counsel about your options. Duty counsel are lawyers who can assist you for free at the first appearance, but they cannot represent you in a trial. If you are charged with an indictable offence, contact a lawyer right away to allow the lawyer to prepare for the preliminary hearing.

If you are charged with an offence that will be heard by a Provincial Court judge, reserve your plea until you have had a chance to consult with counsel.

The Law Society of Alberta can provide you with names of criminal lawyers and if they are in good standing with them. If you cannot afford a lawyer, then Legal Aid Alberta may represent you. If you have been denied Legal Aid representation, you cannot afford a lawyer, and the charge is serious and complex for you to defend, then a judge may appoint a lawyer for you.

Obtaining Disclosure

As an accused person, you have the right to know the case against you in advance of trial so you can prepare a defence. To find the evidence against you, you or your lawyer may request “disclosure” from the Crown prosecutor’s office. Disclosure may include:

  • Witness statements;
  • Police officer’s notes;
  • Police reports;
  • Video footage; and, 
  • A record of the arrest.

Trial Process

The trial process can be complicated, so it is important that you have experienced criminal legal counsel assisting you with the trial.

In a criminal trial, the burden of proof that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt falls on the Crown. Because of this burden, the Crown goes first and presents its case by calling witnesses and entering other evidence, such as a weapon, bank statement, photographs or test results into evidence.

After each witness, you will have an opportunity to cross-examine that witness to test their evidence. After the Crown has finished calling all of their evidence, you have the option (though you do not have to) of calling your own witnesses.

After all of the evidence has been heard, the judge will ask both sides to present legal argument before the judge or jury makes a determination.

Contact Dennis Kolba Criminal Law

If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offence, consult with Dennis Kolba, an experienced criminal lawyer in Calgary. Dennis Kolba has over 10 years assisting accused persons who have been charged with criminal and quasi-criminal offences. He is an established drug crime lawyer in Calgary. Contact us at 587-317-8278.

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