This article was last updated: Nov. 9th, 2023
WHAT IS A CRIMINAL DEFENCE LAWYER?
If you have been charged with a criminal offence and are looking for help, then you may be wondering what a criminal lawyer does. This type of lawyer is someone who specializes in criminal law and can represent you in court if you are facing criminal charges. They can provide legal assistance and legal advice, and act to protect your rights during the criminal justice process. So, if you need representation for an outstanding criminal offence, you need someone that understands the criminal law. You need a criminal defence lawyer.
Its difficult to summarize everything that criminal lawyers do in the execution of their duties, but its fair to say that they work to get the best results for their clients. They work to ensure that their client’s rights are protected.
The focus for criminal lawyers should always be the best interests of their clients. A criminal defence attorney should always provide advice that will help their client achieve the best results in any criminal case whether it is a sexual assault or an impaired driving case. They should carefully listen to their client’s instructions and advise clients when their expectations are unreasonable. Not all clients facing criminal charges understand the mechanics of the criminal law. Not all clients understand criminal court procedure and the complicated evidentiary rules. It requires patience and time to explain to clients how their will proceed through the criminal justice systems. The various options that they have by the nature of the charges they are facing and some of the considerations and consequences that flow from their instructions.
Clients deserve the best efforts from their defence lawyer when it comes to criminal law matters. Typically a law firm in Toronto, Ontario, will focus on a single area of the law.
Stages of Criminal Trial Process and Criminal Cases
There are several distinct stages in the criminal trial process. It starts with the police investigation and arrest which is followed by the bail or release stage. From there it moves to the pre-trial stage where disclosure is reviewed and meeting are conducted with clients, the prosecuting Crown Attorneys and Judges that manage criminal cases. Finally, if the charges are not withdrawn or diverted then there are trials or plea hearing and ultimately sentencing proceedings. At every stage, from contact with police until the matter is resolved a criminal lawyer is involved providing legal advice and explaining the criminal law and the strategic options and considerations that an accused person requires.
During the entire process criminal lawyers will conduct legal research, negotiate with police, Crowns, and Judges. They will review the police investigation and conduct their own investigations and hire private investigators with respect to the evidence. A defence attorney will interview witnesses and prepare them for trial. They will draft legal argument in preparation for trial and Charter motions. Finally criminal lawyers will conduct trials before Judges and Juries.
POLICE INVESTIGATION AND ARREST
When a person is being investigated by police it can be an unnerving experience. The officers conducting the investigation, whether its an impaired driving or a sexual assault, are attempting to collect evidence (statements and utterances to police is evidence) and build a criminal case to lay charges. At the same time an accused person has Charter Rights that protect them some tactics employed by police. A criminal defence lawyer will be able to assist a person being investigated to understand their rights and give them some strategic options on how to deal with police.
Criminal lawyers understand how police attempt to circumvent your rights and breach protections you have under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and theCriminal Code. The tactics that they use to obtain an admission or utterance that can be used in court. How they attempt to gain entry into your home or manufacture grounds to allow a search of a motor vehicle. A strategic advice early in a police investigation can make the difference in the outcome of a trial, or prevent charges from even being laid. A strong criminal defence established early in the process will assist later if criminal charges are laid.
Often the best advice that a law firm or Toronto criminal defence lawyers and give their clients is to remain silent. This is often much more difficult than it appears. Clients often want to appear cooperative with police, often do not wish to antagonize the police by being difficult of confrontational. But there are diplomatic ways in which accused persons can enjoy their rights to remain silent and be cooperative.
Bail Hearings and Release Conditions
Once you have been charged the police may decided to release you on a Promise to Appear with conditions that your attend court, notify police of change of address, attend for fingerprints and that you attend your first court appearance. Or if the charges are more serious, such as a sexual assault, you may be held for a bail hearing. Under the criminal law that bail hearing should be conducted within 24-hours of your arrest. You will likely require a criminal defence lawyer to arrange your sureties, speak with the Crown, conduct the bail hearing and secure the release.
Criminal defence lawyers understand that “just getting bail” is often not enough. Depending on the charges a person can be on bail for several years and sometimes the release conditions can be very burdensome. Secure a bail with reasonable conditions is what is important in most criminal cases.
THE PRE-TRIAL STAGE
The pre-trial stage is where your criminal lawyer does much of the work on your case. They will review your disclosure, meet with the Crown and attempt to give you the best options moving forward.
Disclosure Review and Case Assessment
Your criminal lawyer commences an assessment of your case, the law, your personal circumstances to get a better picture of your matter. They review the disclosure and assess the evidence against you and assess possible legal defence available. This means reviewing the police investigation, assessing for Charter violations. Review the witness statements and other evidence such as video surveillance or scene photographs. Reviewing forensic evidence and speaking with experts.
The purpose of the disclosure review is to determine the strength of the Crown’s case, if there any Charter violations and to determine if there are substantial legal defences. It within this process that a trial defence theory is established.
Crown Pre-trials and Judicial Pre-trials
A Crown Pre-trial can only occur once meaningful disclosure is received and the client provides some instructions on which way they want the case to proceed. Pre-trials allow for frank conversations between Crown and defence counsel on how the case may resolve or what the trial issues may be. Also, during these conversations guilty pleas can be negotiated.
Further, these meetings can also be helpful to resolve outstanding disclosure issues, to negotiate the variation of bail conditions, provide the Crown with information that can influence their position. These meetings also allow defence counsel to understand how the Crown views their own case and their potential weaknesses.
Judicial Pre-trials involve a Judge, Crown counsel and defence counsel. These meetings are usually to discuss trial time estimates, disclosure issues, legal trial issues and at times to help with the negotiating of plea deals.
Criminal lawyers can shape and influence the outcome of a matter in how skillfully they conduct their meeting with the Crown Attorney. Certain strategic admissions or concessions can shape how a case proceeds and ultimately resolves.
PREPARING CHARTER APPLICATIONS
Whenever the police have violated a Charter right the onus is on the accused to defend that violation. The accused must demonstrate that their rights were violated and must ask a Judge to remedy that violation. These constitutional charter arguments at times can be complex and nuanced. These arguments are as much fact driven as they are based on the law. Further, they need to be structured and framed in such away that a Judge is able to apply to appropriate remedy to your case.
Charter Application need to be prepared well in advance of trial and filed in accordance to the Rules of Criminal Practice. An accused person cannot attend the first day of their trial and simply ask that the charges be dismissed because of a Charter rights violation.
Defence counsel will need to draft the require charter application material, provide the supporting affidavits and evidence and structure the legal argument well in advance of trial. A properly drafted and argued Charter Application can result in the exclusion of evidence or stay of the charges. A criminal lawyer will be required for this.
Trial and Client Preparation
In advance of the trial date, a Toronto criminal lawyer prepares and frames their defence plan. They conduct a thorough review of the Police and Crown disclosure (evidence), they request further disclosure such as officers’ notes or forensic evidence. They interview potential defence witnesses and consult with any expert witnesses. Research the law and start drafting their opening statements, areas of cross examination and closing submissions. Much of this work is conducted by Toronto criminal lawyers in their offices away from clients.
Finally, criminal lawyers will spend time preparing their clients for trial. This is where the lawyer’s courtroom experience will most benefit the client. Presumably a criminal lawyer will have spent many hours in court listening to evidence, examining witnesses and learning what is required from a witness in court.
THE CRIMINAL TRIAL
If the case proceeds to a trial, you need the best criminal lawyer for you. The best lawyer is one that you trust, and that you can communicate with, and that has the experience to handle your matter. Its easy to find an experienced criminal lawyer in Toronto. It takes some work to find the best criminal lawyer for you.
At trial your defence counsel will ensure that the rules of procedures are being followed. That only admissible evidence is present at court and ensure that your defence evidence is properly placed before the Judge for consideration. Criminal lawyers understand the rules of evidence and ensure that the Crown and police witnesses adhere to them.
Defence lawyers will also plan and devise a cross-examination strategy for the Crown witnesses. Not every witness in every trial needs to be examined on every point of evidence. Planning on what pieces of evidence are required from each witness is crucial to ensure that a trial is properly and effectively conducted.
Criminal Trials are Unpredictable and Stressful
Criminal trials can be stressful experiences and you require a criminal lawyer that you trust and can communicate with. Rarely is anything for certain in a trial. Its difficult to predict how trials will unfold. Its difficult to anticipate how all the witnesses will do under cross-examination. Its difficult to predict how a particular Judge will react to the evidence at trial. But an experienced criminal lawyer will be able to provide legal advice during the trial and explain the processes.
The hoped outcome is a not guilty verdict. A not guilty verdict will end the matter and is the best outcome after a trial, but not all trials end this way. If convicted the final stage is the Sentencing Hearing or an Appeal.
Sentencing Hearing – Either After a Plea or Conviction
If convicted after a trial, or if pleading guilt, a sentencing hearing will be required. A sentencing hearing is vastly different if its after a contested criminal proceeding versus after a voluntary guilty plea. With either instance a criminal defence lawyer will be able to prepare you for the process. There may be a Pre-Sentence Report requested that will provide much background to the Judge and Crown. Counsel will be able to advise on how to prepare for that report. Your lawyer will also want to ensure that any good character evidence is collected and properly prepared for the Judge.
Depending on your circumstances your lawyer may suggest counselling or other treatments to improve your chances of mitigating any sentence.
Appeal of Conviction or Sentence
If you are convicted of a criminal offence, your criminal defence lawyer may assist you with commencing an appeal or refer you to an appropriate appeal lawyer. For an appeal to be successful under the criminal law your appeal lawyer must be able to demonstrate that a factual or legal error was made that affected the outcome of the trial.
TORONTO CRIMINAL DEFENCE LAWYER
If you have been charged with a criminal code offence in Toronto, it is important to seek a defence attorney as soon as possible. Toronto criminal defence lawyers have the experience and knowledge to provide strategic legal advice on how to defend against criminal charges. Criminal defense lawyer sunderstand the criminal law process and will help you prepare for your trial. Contact us today for a free consultation.
William Jaksa is an experienced Toronto criminal defence lawyer based that has been practicing for over 15 years. He honestly believes that every client matters. That every criminal case matters. That achieving the best results for his clients matter. Contact Jaksa today for a consultation or call us at the toll free number below. His law firm is located in Toronto, Ontario, but he practices through the province of Ontario.
William Jaksa, Toll Free at 647-951-8078