- Joseph Horrigan
First Appearance in Criminal Court: What to Expect
If you have been charged with a criminal offence for the first time, you will no doubt be left with a laundry list of questions about what happens next. One of the most common first question that I receive from someone newly charged is what happens at my first court date.
Initially, I always assure individuals asking for advice about first appearance is that they do not have to be prepared to have a trial on that day. For those familiar with the justice system, this information seems glaringly obvious. However, for those unfamiliar with the justice system this can be a cause of great concern.
On your first appearance, you will receive your disclosure. Your disclosure is the evidence that the Crown relies on to prove the allegations against you. (It is worth noting that the initial package you receive from the Crown is often incomplete. A skilled defence attorney will know what further information needs to be requested and what should not be requested as it may further incriminate you). Accompanying your disclosure is a Crown screening form. This form provides you an indication of what the Crown would be seeking if you were to plead guilty.
What is the best advice an individual can get in relation to their first appearance?
Simple, retain a lawyer in advance of that court date.
Attending the court house can be a very daunting and intimidating experience for someone who is unfamiliar with the criminal justice system. In most jurisdictions, individuals will be required to enter through a metal detector and an inspection will be conducted by court security.
Further, first appearances in the courthouse will often be very full. This experience can add a public nature to your circumstances which for many can be very embarrassing. Hiring a lawyer in advance of a first appearance will allow the lawyer to get you to complete a designation of counsel. This designation will allow your lawyer to appear on your behalf thus limiting the number of appearances you need to make in the court house.
A further benefit of hiring a lawyer in advance of your first appearance is the amount of time you will save. Individuals often see that on their release documents they are to attend Court room: X at 9:30. They assume that this time is an appointment like what you would have with your doctor. This could not be less accurate (although you should ensure you leave yourself time and arrive early like you would for a doctor’s appointment). The time on your release document is the start time of the court. At that time, the list of all individuals on that day’s docket will begin to be called.
If you do not retain a lawyer in advance of your first court appearance then you will be waiting until all matters where there is a retained lawyer are addressed. This situation can lead to you being forced to miss a full day pay at work. When your matter is eventually addressed, the great irony will sink in as your matter will almost inevitably be adjourned to allow you time to retain counsel.
Finally hiring a lawyer in advance of your first appearance will allow your lawyer to begin protecting the court record in relation to 11(B) delay from the start. Section 11(B) of the Charter protects your right to