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Are you or a family member involved in a crime? You likely have questions and this is a great place to start. Learn about your rights when dealing with police, or if you receive a summons or appearance notice. Understand BC’s criminal justice process and how your case will move through the courts.

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The Criminal Code of Canada is the federal legislation that has codified the criminal law in Canada. It is divided into sections with different crimes. In addition to the Criminal Code, the common law, which are the decisions made by judges, also informs us about what is a crime as the judges must interpret the Criminal Code and apply it to different situations. You can search criminal cases on CanLII – a site that publishes court judgments and many tribunals from across Canada.

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There are two types of protection orders: family law protection orders and peace bonds.

A family law protection order is made under the Family Law Act and you can ask for one in the Provincial Court or the Supreme Court. It is only to protect you from family members. Someone you dated might not count as a family member. You should consider speaking to a lawyer if you are seeking a family law protection order. Legal Aid BC created a guide for how to apply for a family law protection order. You might also qualify for a free lawyer through Legal Aid who could assist you in making an application for a protection order.

A peace bond is a protection order made under s. 810 of the Criminal Code of Canada. It does not create a criminal record. Contact your local police to ask for one. A peace bond can be against anyone including someone you dated. You do not need a lawyer as Crown counsel (a government lawyer) will make the application for you in criminal court.

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Police are responsible for helping to keep our communities safe and they may require your assistance to do that. In most cases, if you are stopped and questioned by the police, you do not have to answer their questions, but it is a good idea to be polite. You do not have to tell them your name nor provide identification, if you were not driving when you were stopped. You have the right to remain silent.

When talking to police, the key point is do they suspect you of committing a crime. If you are suspected of a crime, police have more rights, but you always have the right to remain silent. If you are not suspected of a crime and you are not driving, then your participation in the exchange is voluntary. You are free to go. If police choose to detain you, they must provide a reason for suspecting you of a crime.

If you are riding a bike and the police think you have broken a traffic law, then you must give them your name and address. If you refuse, they can arrest you. If you are in a car and the police flash their lights, you must safely pull over to the right side of the road. You will need to tell the police your name and address; say whose car it is; and, show your driver’s licence, registration and insurance papers. Do not offer the police money – it is a serious crime to bribe a police officer.

If the police come to your house and ask to enter, you do not have to give your consent. Police have the right to enter your home without your consent when:

  • They have a warrant (from a judge allowing them to enter)
  • They are chasing someone and they think that person is in your house
  • They have a reason to believe that someone in the home is in danger
  • They think there is a serious crime happening in your home

If you are being arrested by the police, the police officer must state their name and why they are arresting you. You have a right to a lawyer and do not have to answer any questions the police officer asks you. In fact, it is in your interests not to answer police questions. The police officer has to let you call a lawyer right away. If you want to speak to your lawyer in private, the police officer has to let you. Within 24 hours, the police have to take you to court or let you go.

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If you are charged with a crime, you should remain silent and talk a lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer, ask for a lawyer who can provide you with legal advice and explain your rights to you. Legal Aid BC provides lawyers for people who have been charged with a crime. You can contact Legal Aid to inquire about getting a lawyer to represent you.

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The illustration below illustrates the legal process your case will follow. After being charged, you will have the chance to enter a plea: guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, it is the role of BC Crown Counsel to prosecute the crime and present their case at a trial. If you are found not guilty at trial, you are free to go. If you plead guilty or are found guilty by a trial, the judge will decide your criminal sentence.

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If a person is 12 to 17 years old and is charged with a crime, the Youth Criminal Justice Act applies. The YCJA is a Canadian law that guarantees the rights of young people in the criminal justice system. You can read more on the YCJA website.

The law applies to youth between the ages of 12 and 17. A child under the age of 12 cannot be charged with a crime. At age 18, a person is considered to be an adult and will go to trial in adult court.

You have a right to have a lawyer. If you don’t have a lawyer, a Legal Aid lawyer will be provided to you. Remain silent until you speak to a lawyer. Ask for a lawyer as soon as possible and speak to your lawyer at every step in the criminal process. If a youth goes to court without a lawyer, a duty counsel (lawyer paid by the government) will be there to help.

When a youth is arrested or held at the police station for questioning, the police must tell the youth’s parents about the arrest. The parents are also told about the youth’s right to have a lawyer.

Legal Aid BC provides lawyers for people who have been charged criminal. You can contact Legal Aid to inquire about getting a lawyer to represent you.

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You must go to court if you receive an appearance notice or summons. An appearance notice is given to people who are required to testify in a criminal trial on a specific day and time. A summons is given to someone charged with a crime, requiring them to appear in court on a specific day and time.

Put the date in your calendar. If you need more information relating to an appearance notice, consider contacting the Lawyer Referral Service. If you receive a summons, talk to a lawyer. If you do not have one, contact Legal Aid BC to inquire about getting a lawyer to represent you. Read more about appearance notice and summons on the BC government website or from People’s Law School.

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At a trial, if you plead “not guilty”, it is the Crown’s job to prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Crown will present evidence and can call witnesses. You (your lawyer) will be given a chance to cross-examine (question) these witnesses if you so choose. Once the Crown has called all their witnesses you will be given the opportunity to call witness, testify and present evidence.

You do not need to present your case or testify if you do not wish to do so. You are innocent until proven guilty. You do not have to prove that you are innocent. Your task is to raise doubt for the judge or jury regarding the evidence presented against you and where possible, to provide evidence that you did not commit the crime.

Sometimes issues about the admissibility of evidence come up if you do not think the evidence should be used. After the evidence has been presented, both you and the Crown make final arguments called submissions based on the evidence.

After hearing the evidence and submissions, the judge makes a decision. If you are found not guilty (acquitted), you can leave. If you are found guilty (convicted), then you must wait for the judge to sentence you. A guilty person is held in custody until sentencing is determined and pronounced in court.

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Getting a sentence after being convicted does not always mean that the accused will go to jail. There are several possibilities in criminal sentencing and each paragraph below explains certain types of sentences judges can order.

A discharge means that the judge finds the accused guilty but lets him or her go free. This usually only happens when the offence is not serious, and the accused has not been in trouble before. An absolute discharge means that the accused has no criminal record. A conditional discharge means that the accused will be on probation, with certain conditions, for a period of time. If the accused follows the rules, he or she is treated as if there were no conviction. The accused will not have a criminal record.

Probation means that the accused has to follow certain conditions that the judge sets. For example, the accused will have to stay out of trouble, report to a probation officer, and follow other rules that the judge has set. The accused is still convicted of the crime, but the sentence is suspended (on hold) while the accused is on a term of probation. A suspended sentence is not a final sentence. If the accused does not follow the probation order, he or she might be sentenced to a breach of probation as well as having the suspended sentence cancelled and being sent to jail.

A judge can order that the accused pay a fine in addition to going to jail or a term of probation. An order for restitution means that the accused must make things right. For example, the accused might have to repair property damage or replace stolen property.

A conditional sentence order means that the accused spends his or her jail time in the community. The sentence must be under 2 years or there is a minimum sentence. It is not available if the accused has committed a very serious crime. The word “conditional” applies to the rules the offender must follow in order to stay out of jail. If the accused does not follow the conditions (rules) that the judge sets, the accused may have to spend the rest of his or her sentence in jail. For example, the accused may be given a sentence, conditional on her not taking drugs for 18 months. If she is found to be taking drugs after trial, she will spend the rest of her 18-month sentence in jail.

The length of a jail sentence varies. If it is a summary conviction offence, the maximum jail sentence is 6 months. If it is an indictable offence, the maximum sentence is 5 years, unless the Criminal Code states that the maximum sentence can be higher.

If an accused is convicted of two crimes, a judge can order that the sentences be served consecutively (one after the other) or concurrently (at the same time).

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If you see a crime happening, call 9-1-1 (if it is urgent) or call your local police.

If it is safe and you are not threatened, wait for the police to come. As a witness, it is your duty to talk to the police. The police will talk to you and other witnesses. Speaking with witnesses helps the police gather evidence to be able to arrest a criminal. If a witness cannot speak English, the police will get an interpreter. Witnesses provide their name, address, phone number, and describe the crime they witnessed.

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