Getting Out of Police Custody

After the police have arrested a person suspected of committing a crime, they may decide to release the accused right away, even if he or she has been charged with an offence. The police will give the accused a piece of paper that says when to go to court. If the accused does not show up to court, he or she will probably be arrested and held in jail until a judge says they can be released until the next court date (called getting out “on bail”). The accused might even be charged with another offence for failing to show up for trial.

If the police do not let the accused go right away, the accused stays locked up at the police station. The accused must be taken to court for a bail hearing within 24 hours from the time of arrest. A bail hearing is when a judge (or judicial justice of the peace) decides if the accused should be let go or held in custody until he or she pleads guilty or there is a trial.

The accused might be let go if he or she promises to appear in court for the next hearing. If the accused is let go, he or she might have to give the court a sum of money to hold until the trial. This is called bail.  If the accused does not show up for trial, the money belongs to the court and the accused can be arrested again. The judge might make rules that the accused must follow. For example, the accused might not be able to drive a car or be out later than 10:00 p.m.

How a lawyer can help

A lawyer can help defend someone who has been charged with a criminal offence. A lawyer can tell the accused:

  • If his or her rights have been violated
  • Whether the Crown prosecutor has a strong case against the accused
  • If there is a less serious charge that the Crown prosecutor might consider instead
  • What defences he or she has
  • What kind of sentence he or she might get if convicted
  • If it is possible to have the accused be part of a diversion program so he or she does not end up with a criminal record

The diversion program

If this is the accused’s first offence and he or she is not likely to commit another crime, the accused might be part of the diversion program. This means that the Crown might not charge the accused. If the accused has already been charged, the Crown might not continue with the case. The accused may be asked to accept responsibility for his or her crime, express remorse (say he is sorry), and do community service or other activities. It allows the accused to avoid the court process and a possible conviction if he or she completes the program. The Crown prosecutor will stay (stop) the proceedings or withdraw the charges.

If an interpreter is needed

The accused does not have the legal right to have an interpreter when the police are asking questions. But an interpreter is sometimes provided if the accused asks for one. However, the accused does have the right to have an interpreter in court.

The first appearance

The first time the accused goes to court is called the “first appearance”. The first appearance is not a trial. The accused gets documents from the Crown prosecutor that describe the crime the accused is supposed to have committed. This information is what the Crown prosecutor will rely on to prove that the accused is guilty.

The arraignment hearing

An arraignment hearing is a court hearing where the accused (or his or her lawyer) tells the court if he or she will be pleading guilty or not guilty.  If the accused pleads guilty, the judge will give a sentence (punishment). If the accused pleads not guilty, a trial date will be set.

How duty counsel can help

If the accused does not have a lawyer, duty counsel (free lawyers) are available at the courthouse to help the accused. They can give legal information and advice and help with basic court appearances.  Duty counsel can help the accused in these ways:

  • Give the accused advice about the charges and court procedure
  • Talk to the judge about letting the accused out “on bail”
  • Make a guilty plea and explain to the judge why the accused should get a light sentence
  • Talk to the accused about a “diversion program
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