Being charged with a criminal offence can be very stressful for many Canadians, and it is not an experience that most would like to repeat. It can be intimidating to navigate the criminal justice system on your own. A criminal lawyer can help by representing you throughout the process. If you have never interacted with a criminal lawyer before, it may be challenging to know what questions to ask. Like any other meeting, it is best to arrive prepared. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
What will happen with my personal information?
Your lawyer needs several personal details to open a file. Your lawyer needs to confirm your identity and ensure representing you would not be in conflict with another client. If there are any conflicts, you should be referred to another lawyer. Your lawyer is required to securely store your personal information for a period of at several years after the conclusion of the legal matter.
Is everything I say confidential?
Speaking to your lawyer goes beyond mere confidentiality and is actually protected by solicitor-client privilege. Lawyers have a professional obligation to closely protect all client communications and could be disbarred if they fail to do so. There are a few ethical exceptions to solicitor-client privilege, but it is unlikely that your situation will trigger one of these. Your lawyer needs you to be frank and honest during your discussions. This openness will help your lawyer represent you most effectively.
I don’t understand the documents the police gave me. What do they mean?
When you are charged with a criminal offence you have the right to obtain all police’ documentation of their investigation. These documents will specify details and dates that will help your lawyer understand your legal situation and develop an appropriate plan. This documentation is normally obtained from the Crown Prosecutors’ office, but some may have been served on you at the time of your arrest. Bring any documents in your possession to your first meeting with the lawyer.
I have been charged with a number of offences. What is the worst that can happen?
Each offence comes with a range of sentences, including a maximum possible sentence. Maximum sentences are often reserved for the most serious circumstances. Also, the sentence for some offences can run concurrently with others, rather than consecutively. Your lawyer can explain all of this. However, your lawyer may not be able to assess the likely outcome so early in the court process. Your lawyer will need to examine the disclosure provided by the prosecution to determine the strength of the case against you. If you have the disclosure package in your possession, be sure to provide it to your lawyer. If not, your lawyer can and will take care of acquiring it. After examination of the disclosure package, your lawyer will be in a much better position to provide an opinion on the likely outcome and a recommendation on how to proceed.
I have a job and can’t miss work. Do I have to attend court every time?
One of the documents provided by police will contain a date for the initial court appearance. There will be a number of subsequent court appearances depending on how the matter unfolds. One of the perks of hiring a lawyer is having someone attend court on your behalf so you can carry on with your life. However, some court dates will require your personal attendance. Your lawyer will let you know when you must attend court in person.
How can I get in touch with my lawyer?
Ongoing communication with your lawyer is very important. Lawyers cannot act without instructions and need to be in contact with you throughout your legal matter. In preparation for each court appearance, your lawyer may need to be in contact with you to go over some details. Make a plan with your lawyer to ensure they can get a hold of you, along with alternate means of contact if possible. Also, discuss with your lawyer how you can get in contact with them. Keep track of your scheduled court dates. If one is approaching, get in touch to stay up-to-date and see if your lawyer needs anything from you.
How much is this going to cost?
Financial details are very important and should be discussed from the very start of your relationship with your lawyer. Don’t be afraid to bring it up, just remember that a lawyer is paid for the legal services provided, not for the outcome of your case. Depending on your income level, your lawyer may be able to refer you to Legal Aid for financial support or other programs that may reduce your costs, such as Student Legal Services or Native Counselling Services of Alberta. For more information on hiring a lawyer and discussing fees, see our blog post.
To speak to one of our attorneys, contact DDSG Criminal Law today.