Are you being charged with a crime? Here are answers to common questions about the Canadian criminal justice system.

Should I talk to the Police?
In the vast majority of cases, I advise clients who are under police investigation of their Right to Remain Silent. I suggest that you do not speak to the police without counsel being present. There is a perception that if you do not answer questions put by an investigating officer, you will appear to be guilty. However, it is most often the case that by the time the police have contacted you, a decision to lay a charge has been made.

Remember that anything that you say to the police can be used against you, whether it is in writing, on videotape or a casual comment made in the hallway of the police station. Unfortunately, if you choose to speak to the police, you may unwittingly help the prosecution's case.

Once you've been detained or arrested by the police, you will be given an opportunity to speak with counsel. I am available to speak with you and can be reached at our office number. If you cannot reach us for any reason, free legal advice is available through Legal Aid Ontario at 1-800-265-0451 (24 hours per day). You will get to speak with a lawyer for confidential and free advice.

Do not forget that there will be an opportunity to tell your side of the story at a later date and there is no rush to do so at the police station. In most cases, it is better to wait, consult with counsel, and determine the best time to tell what really happened.

Should I plead guilty?
Whether to plead guilty or have a trial is perhaps the biggest decision you will have to make if you are facing a criminal charge. Sometimes, clients feel that they should just plead guilty to get the charges over with - but this can be a serious mistake. A conviction can be detrimental to your opportunities for employment, affect your freedom to travel and impact upon your domestic situation.

The burden of proof in any criminal case is on the Crown Attorney. An accused person may have defences that he or she is unaware of. Possible defences can include the manner in which you Ire investigated or arrested, whether you have been provided with full disclosure of the case you have to meet and whether the right to have a trial within a reasonable period of time has been respected.

Guilty pleas need to be voluntary, and free from improper pressure or threats.

Do I need a criminal defence lawyer?
In the vast majority of cases, those charged with criminal offences are better off in Court if they have legal assistance. If you choose to have a trial, you will be at a considerable disadvantage without a lawyer. In Court, rules of evidence and law apply to all aspects of the criminal proceeding. If you do not have experienced counsel representing you, your case will not be presented as effectively.

If you do choose to plead guilty, you will still benefit from legal representation. Often the penalty sought by the Crown is too high and you need a lawyer to negotiate and advocate on your behalf. Also, while you may not have a defence to the charge there may be important factors, relevant to sentencing and the disposition of the case, which can be brought to the Court's attention by your lawyer.

What are the consequences of a drinking and driving offence?
Due to increased awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, there are significant consequences for those charged with a drinking and driving offence. For this reason, it is very important to receive advice from a lawyer with expertise in the area so that you can make an informed decision about whether to plead guilty or have a trial.

Should I defend against my drinking and driving charge?
Given the consequences of drinking and driving charges, it is very wise to consult with a lawyer with a special interest in defending these types of charges so that you can make an informed decision about whether to plead guilty or have a trial. I will review your case in detail and give you our opinion with respect to the likelihood of success at trial. I will explain the nature of any defences you have and ensure that you are aware of the consequences you face if convicted.

In the event that you choose to plead guilty following our review of your case I will represent you through that process to ensure that you receive a fair sentence and that appropriate mitigating factors are brought to the Court's attention.

I'm only 15 - what are the consequences of a criminal charge for me?
There are different principles that apply to youth justice than adults in Canada and it is important for young people and their parents to understand the Youth Criminal Justice Act and its application for those between the ages of 12 and 18.

The Act recognizes that young people often lack the maturity of adults and end up facing a criminal charge following an impulsive act. The legislation is designed to provide meaningful consequences for criminal behaviour while focusing on rehabilitation to prevent further criminal behaviour.

Because there is a wide range of sentencing options under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it is important for young people to have legal representation to ensure that they receive the benefits of the Act. In addition, criminal charges can have an effect on a youthful offender beyond the age of 18 in certain circumstances and young people who are charged will benefit from receiving legal advice at an early stage in the proceedings. Contrary to common belief, youth court records do not get erased upon turning 18.