Frequently Asked Questions about Criminal Law


How can I afford a lawyer?

No one plans to be charged with a criminal offence. In the event that you do not meet the criteria to obtain legal aid, the financial burden of hiring counsel can be a heavy one. I appreciate this. As most criminal trials can take up to a year before trial, I work at getting my clients on a payment schedule such that the retainer can be paid for over time.

Should I bother to hire a lawyer?

A better question is what the likely consequences are if I do not have a lawyer. Even with a minor criminal charge there are potentially serious consequences in terms of a criminal record, driving suspension, a large fine and potentially a jail sentence.

In almost all circumstances having a lawyer will result in your either beating the charges or getting the best sentence possible. If you decide not to retain a lawyer, it is unlikely that you will get comparable results acting as your own lawyer.

Should I just plead guilty and get it over with?

No. You owe yourself the benefit of getting some legal advice with regards to the police investigation and then making a decision with a lawyer as to the correct course of action. Even if, the review of the police investigation shows that there are no working defences which would warrant at trial, having a lawyer will at least assist you with regards to getting the best possible sentence.

How do I find the right lawyer?

You need to talk to people who have experience with lawyers who have defended cases such as yours. Not surprisingly, not all lawyers are created equal. Not all lawyers are well versed in criminal law. You need to find an expert in criminal law, who can provide you with the best advice. You should consult websites, the Law Society of British Columbia, friends and family whom you know have contacts in the legal community. If all else fails simply call any lawyer and ask her/him, who he/she would retain as counsel if they were in your shoes.

How much is this really going to cost?

The cost of the retainer will be based upon the nature of the case and how much time counsel will need to prepare for trial and attend court.

Until we have had a chance to review disclosure from the Crown as to the police investigation, it is impossible just to say how short or long a period of time is necessary to prepare your defence, to set a trial date and to conduct your trial.

I can promise you that I will always fix my fee in advance so that you know exactly how much it will cost. Before I am in a position to fix a fee, I work on an hourly basis. When we meet I will tell you exactly how much that is and how much you can expect to pay by way of an initial retainer to cover the initial advice.

Should I choose a lawyer who will do this really cheap?

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Without doubt you can find a lawyer who will do your case for less and in some instances much less than most other Counsel. You may want to ask yourself, how this lower priced lawyer can afford to do that, whether it is prudent to retain such a lawyer and further whether the lawyer will really put in the work in that your case warrants. It is not my advice that you retain the cheapest lawyer.

Can you guarantee what is going to happen in court?

No. I can provide you with the likely outcomes. No lawyer can guarantee a result.

What happens on the first court date listed in my Appearance Notice or my Bail Recognizance?

On your first appearance in court, you will receive disclosure from the Crown which summarizes the police investigation. You will be asked if you intend to retain Counsel, and you will be given the opportunity to review the disclosure prior to taking any decisions with regards to your case. Normally, your case will be adjourned for a week or two to permit this to happen. If you need a longer period of time in which to retain Counsel, you can ask the Court for more time on your second appearance.

How do I know what kind of case the police have against me?

On the first court appearance you will receive of the disclosure of the Crown’s case against you. This is sometimes referred to as particulars. This is a summary in narrative form together with police notes and the statements of potential witnesses. The particulars will often include other items of potential evidence such as photographs, Breathalyzer Certificates, Fingerprint analysis, etc.

You should never assume that the disclosure you receive on the first appearance is all the potential disclosure that exists or that could be obtained from the Crown. Normally further disclosure is sought by Counsel after the initial particulars have been received and reviewed.

What happens if I am found guilty of an Impaired Driving, “Over 80” or Refusing to Provide a Breath Sample?

There are number of consequences. It will depend on whether it is your first, second or third conviction. The amount of the fine, the length of the driving suspension and the jail terms rises with each subsequent conviction:

  1. On a first conviction a fine  of not less that a  $1,000 together with a driving suspension of not less than a year;
  2. On a second conviction, a mandatory term of imprisonment of not less than thirty days.  The driving suspension will be for a period of not more than five years and not less than two years;
  3. On a third or subsequent conviction, imprisonment of not less than one hundred and twenty days and a suspension of not less than three years.

In addition you may face an increase in your insurance rates by ICBC as well as the potential for an administrative license suspension from the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.

The police mentioned duty Counsel, what is that and can they help me?

Duty Counsel are lawyers that work in the court and provide summary advice to people who need assistance with regards to bail or with regards to pleading guilty. Duty Counsel can usually advise you that there may be certain defences available to your charges. Duty Counsel generally do not have the time to assist you to take your case to trial.

If I am on bail, how closely do I have to follow my bail conditions such as having no contact with certain people or staying away from certain places?

It is absolutely critical that you comply to the letter with your bail terms. If you are caught in breach of your bail, you will be incarcerated and it will be much harder for you to make bail a second time.

What do I do if I receive a 90 day driving suspension?

You have 7 days to appeal 90 administrative driving prohibition. If you don’t appeal that you will be deemed to accept it. Before you appeal, you will need to obtain the Report To The Superintendent, which the police have provided to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles. If you are successful on the review, you will get a return of the application fee as well as the reinstatement of your driving privileges.