Do you know what happens to a person after he/she is arrested for committing a crime and released from police custody? Do you know about the court appearances that an accused person has to make before his/her trial date?
If you don’t know, you’re not alone. From reading the news, it seems like a lot of journalists don’t understand basic criminal procedure, either.
That is the subject of this week’s column topic.
Each province has its own rules on how criminal cases move through the criminal court system.
We, in British Columbia, have the Criminal Caseflow Management Rules, which provides the rules on how an offender makes his/her way through the courts (before eventually going to trial). These Rules were created (and came into force in 1999) after discussions with Crown prosecutors, criminal defence lawyers, and judges.
Here is the typical process of how someone, after arrested, arrives at a trial date:
After someone is arrested for committing a crime, they are typically given some paperwork from the police officer that requires them to go to court on a particular date for a ‘First Appearance’.
At the First Appearance, the Crown prosecutor provides the accused person with their ‘particulars’, which is a package of documents that includes police notes, photographs, witness statements, and everything else that the Crown has regarding that criminal charge. The Crown will also provide their ‘Initial Sentencing Position’ to the accused, which is (as it sounds) the sentencing position that Crown is proposing (if the accused were to plead guilty).
Typically, the file is then adjourned/put off for a few weeks, allowing the accused to find a lawyer and/or decide what he/she wants to do (after reviewing the particulars).
The next court appearance is called the ‘Arraignment Hearing’. At that hearing, the accused pleads guilty or not guilty. If the accused pleads not guilty, then a trial date is booked and both sides (the Crown and the Defence) will give their time estimate of how long the trial will take to complete. If the accused pleads guilty, then a date will be fixed for sentencing (and the accused is sentenced on that date).
For your information, the Arraignment Hearing is often adjourned several times, allowing Crown and defence to thoroughly review their cases and determine if a sentencing agreement (between them) can be reached – i.e. if a plea agreement/bargain can be made.
Assuming the accused entered a not guilty plea and is proceeding to trial, the next appearance for the accused is called a ‘Trial Confirmation Hearing’. This hearing occurs approximately 45 to 30 days before the trial date. At this hearing, the Crown and the defence need to be able to tell the Court/Judge that they are ready to go to trial.
As you can imagine, before this hearing, Crown and defence need to thoroughly review and prepare the case. Here, it may become obvious to either Crown or defence that their case has problems (which may or may not able to be fixed). So, at this stage, it shouldn’t be surprising that many files are settled (and plea bargains/deals are made).
So, what is the purpose of these Rules? Well, if you can’t guess, they are intended to make every appearance meaningful and to screen out the cases that shouldn’t go to trial. The Rules are GOOD.
To illustrate, before the Rules came into force in 1999, there was no rule that required Crown or defence to look at their files before trial.
So, not surprisingly, Crown and defence often did not see the problems /holes with their cases (ex. poor/resistant witnesses) until just before the trial. So, on the trial date (at the last minute), many cases would collapse/be resolved with plea bargains. This would leave holes in the courthouse’s trial schedule, wasting everyone’s time (and money).
And now you know.
**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.
Originally posted on Castanet.net on January 8, 2013: Test your criminal law knowledge.