Bradley Robert Pearson BA LLB Criminal Defence Lawyer serving the metro Toronto area in Ontario Canada

Bradley Robert Pearson B.A., LL.B
Barrister & Solicitor - Criminal Defense Lawyer

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Frequently Asked Questions

These questions and answers are designed to give general information only. These answers represent an overview of the basic features of the legal process. They are not meant to provide legal advice, and procedures and practices may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may not apply to all situations. For legal advice specific to you and your situation, call for a free consultation.

Q - The police want to question me about a criminal matter. What should I do?

A - The police have a duty to investigate allegations of criminal conduct, and as part of that duty they may wish to speak to you regarding a criminal allegation. However, there is no obligation on any person to speak to the police, either as a suspect or a witness, except in certain limited circumstances, such as the legal duty to identify yourself when you are driving a vehicle. You have the right to silence, and the choice of whether to speak to the police or not is yours unless a specific law requires you to cooperate with the police.

You also have the right to consult with a lawyer before speaking to the police, except in very narrow situations, such as the requirement to provide a roadside breath sample (which requires immediate compliance). It is always wise to take full advantage of your right to consult with legal counsel so you can understand what the police are allowed to do, and what your other rights are.

Generally speaking, there are very few situations where speaking to the police when you are a suspect is to your advantage. Anything you say to the police can be used against you in a court proceeding. There is no such thing as speaking to the police "off the record." A statement to police doesn't have to be "formal" to be used in court. Any conversation with the police can be used against you. Even minor comments can damage your case and/or eliminate defences you may otherwise have available to you if you are charged. It is never a waste of time to call a lawyer to discuss your specific situation before talking to the police.

Q - I have been charged with a criminal offence. Do I need a lawyer?

A - Although our system allows an accused person to represent themself in court, there are usually many disadvantages in doing so. Criminal law in Ontario is very complex, and requires a through knowledge of the legislation, cases and procedures that apply to all criminal prosecutions. Dedicated criminal lawyers have the specific education and skills to navigate the criminal justice system at all stages of the proceeding.

For example, a criminal lawyer can sometimes convince the Crown Attorney to withdraw a case without going to trial. This rarely happens to the unrepresented accused.

At trial, effective advocacy requires knowledge of the rules of evidence, and the experience to make the best use of the evidence available to you, and to minimize the effects of damaging evidence. One of the most powerful tools in criminal court is the ability to effectively cross-examine witnesses. More cases are won by effective cross-examination than by skillful legal argument. Yet, cross-examination is a skill that even many trained lawyers struggle to master. Without years of experience, you simply do not have the same ability to put the most favourable evidence before the court. Even if all you want to do is plea guilty, you are at a disadvantage if you represent yourself. An experienced criminal lawyer will be in a better position than you to negotiate a better plea bargain. Most importantly, a criminal lawyer is experienced at putting mitigating factors before the judge to reduce your sentence as much as possible.

No matter how your case progresses, a criminal lawyer can provide insights and explain options that you may not know exist. They can also inform you of the potential consequences of undertaking various courses of action. Some consequences may not be apparent to those who are not regularly involved in the justice system.

Q - How does an accused person get bail?

A - Many times an accused person can be released on their own undertaking or recognizance. Sometimes, especially when the charges are very serious or the accused person has a lengthy criminal record, or is already on bail for outstanding charges, the court will require an accused person to have a surety agree to supervise the accused if they are to be released from custody. A surety is someone who knows the accused person, and is in a position to supervise him or her in the community. The surety will usually be required to promise a sum of money to the court to secure the release of the accused. The job of the surety is to ensure the accused comes to court as required, and to ensure the accused follows any conditions imposed by the court. The surety is required to report any breaches of the bail conditions, or risk losing the money they have promised. If you or someone you know is in police custody, it is important to speak to a criminal lawyer immediately to discuss the details of your situation, and to determine the best course of action.

Q - What happens at my first court appearance?

A - Your name will be called, and you will asked to come to the front of the courtroom. The Crown Attorney will provide you with your initial disclosure. The Justice of the Peace will ask you if you wish to retain a lawyer. In most cases, your case will be adjourned 2-4 weeks to allow you to review your disclosure and consult with a lawyer.

Q - What is disclosure?

A - Disclosure is any material gathered by the police in the course of the investigation of your case. Many jurisdictions now provide disclosure on a CD. The disclosure will usually contain a synopsis of the allegations against you to help you understand what the police allege you did. It will also contain any notes made by the police in their investigation, any witness statements, photos taken, video surveillance, or other items gathered by the police.

Q - What happens after my first appearance?

A - You and/or your lawyer will have an opportunity to review the disclosure and have a meeting with the Crown Attorney to discuss your case. This meeting is usually called a Crown Pretrial ("CPT"), although some Crown Offices use different terminology. During the CPT, the Crown will usually make a hypothetical plea bargain offer, as well as discuss the anticipated trial issues, such as number of witnesses, pretrial applications, whether the Crown Attorney will proceed by Summary Conviction or Indictment, and the anticipated length of the trial or preliminary hearing. These discussions are on a "without prejudice" basis, meaning nothing that is said can be used against the client if the matter proceeds to trial.

Q - What is a Judicial pretrial?

A - A Judicial Pretrial ("JPT") is similar to a CPT, except that a judge is part of the discussions between the defence and Crown Attorney. The advantage of having a judge present is that he or she can provide valuable input that can bring the parties closer to resolving the case, or by facilitating agreements that serve to streamline the trial or preliminary hearing. These discussions are also conducted on a "without prejudice" basis, so that nothing said during the meeting can be used at an accused person's trial.

Q - What is the difference between a Summary Conviction Offence and an Indictable Offence?

A - These are the two classifications of offences. Summary Conviction Offences are usually less serious offences, with maximum penalties of 18 months in jail or less. Indictable Offences are more serious offences, and can carry maximum sentences of 5, 10, or 14 years in prison or life imprisonment. Some offences are considered hybrid, where the Crown Attorney can choose whether the matter proceeds by Summary Conviction or by Indictment. Another major distinction between the types of offences is that Summary Conviction Offences are tried in Provincial Court, while many Indictable Offences give the accused person the option to choose trial in |Provincial Court, trial by judge alone in Superior Court, or trial in Superior Court by judge and jury. Indictable Offences also usually give the accused person the right to have a preliminary hearing in addition to their rights to trial.

Q - What is a preliminary hearing?

A - A preliminary hearing is a hearing where a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice is asked to determine if there is sufficient evidence for a criminal matter to proceed to trial in the Superior Court of Justice. The Crown is required to call evidence, and the defence gets to question witnesses. This hearing is often advantageous to the defence, as it allows the accused person to test the case against them prior to trial.

Q - What is a plea bargain offer?

A - In almost all criminal cases, the Crown Attorney will make an offer to an accused person to try to resolve the case without a trial. This usually involves the Crown suggesting that the accused person plea to one or more offences, in exchange for the Crown suggesting to the presiding judge that a certain sentence be imposed. Often, the Crown will agree to reduce the number of charges a person faces, or agree to a less serious charge, or a reduced sentence. It is important to note that even if a Crown Attorney makes a certain plea offer, the ultimate sentence imposed is up to the judge, who is not bound by any agreement you make with the Crown Attorney. It is also important to note that you cannot be forced to accept any plea offer - you always have the right to go to trial on your charges and have the Crown try to prove the case against you.

Q - I committed the offence. Should I plea guilty just to get the case over with?

A - Absolutely not. Simply because you are factually guilty does not mean the Crown can prove that you committed any offence. You should always speak to a criminal defence lawyer to see if you have any defence's available to you. You always have the right to plea guilty or not guilty. The plea of "not guilty" doesn't necessarily mean you did not commit the offence. It simply tells the Crown "try and prove I did it."

Q - In which circumstances should I plea guilty?

A - This is a very difficult question to answer. The choice is yours alone, and no one can force you to plea guilty. Even your lawyer cannot tell you what to do. All they can do is give you detailed information to allow you to make an informed choice. The choice to plea guilty and give up your right to trial is a significant one, and should not be taken lightly. There are often many unexpected and lasting consequences to pleading guilty to a criminal offence. In addition to fines, probation periods, and jail, being found guilty of a criminal offence can result in a number of additional consequences, such as permanent or long-lasting criminal record, weapon or driving prohibitions, or being placed on the Sexual Offender Registry. A guilty plea in one criminal case can affect other criminal or civil cases. These additional consequences can impact on your employment, ability to travel, immigration status, or your personal life.

You should only plea guilty after you have received detailed and specific legal advice. You should understand what, if any defence's are available to you, and the chances of successfully advancing those defence's if you take your matter to trial. You should understand what rights you are giving up by pleading guilty. You should understand what sentence the Crown Attorney is seeking, what sentence you or your lawyer is seeking, and what other consequences outside of court can result from your plea of guilt. You should only plea guilty when you are in a position to admit that the allegations against you are true.

Q - What is the procedure if I choose to plea guilty?

A - The judge will ask you a series of questions to ensure you understand the legal implications of pleading guilty, and that you are doing so of your own free will. If the judge is satisfied with your answers, the court clerk will read out the charges against you. You will be asked if you plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, the Crown Attorney will read in the allegations against you, and the judge will ask you if those facts are correct. If you do not accept the facts as correct, the judge may strike your plea and set your matter for trial, or require a hearing to determine what facts the judge should rely on in sentencing you. If you accept the facts as correct, the matter will proceed to a sentencing hearing. At the hearing, both the Crown and the defence will have an opportunity to call evidence, provide documents or other materials, and make legal arguments about the right sentence to be imposed by the judge. The judge will ask you if you wish to say anything. At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide and impose the sentence on you, which will take effect immediately.

Q - In what circumstances should I take my matter to trial?

A - This is also a difficult question to answer. Even your lawyer cannot tell you what to do. All they can do is provide you with detailed information that allows you to make an informed choice. You always have the right to take your matter and have the Crown try to prove the allegations against you. You should go to trial if you are not able to admit that the allegations against you are true. Even if the allegations are true, you still have the right to go to trial. Before going to trial, you should speak to a criminal lawyer about your specific situation. You should be aware of the anticipated evidence to be presented at the trial, any defence's available to you, and your lawyers opinion of your chances of success. An important consideration is to weigh the risk-reward factor: how much worse off am I if I lose the trial?

Q - What is the procedure at a trial?

A - The clerk of the court will read out the charges against you. You will be asked if you wish to plea guilty or not guilty. If you plea not guilty, the matter will proceed to trial. At the trial, both the Crown and the defence will have an opportunity to call evidence, provide documents or other materials, and make legal arguments about whether the Crown has proven the allegations against you. The Crown will call their witnesses first, and the defence will have a chance to cross-examine them to challenge their evidence. Once the Crown has called all of their witnesses, the defence will have the opportunity to call their witnesses, and the Crown will have the opportunity to cross-examine them. During this process, either side may file exhibits. Once all the witnesses have been called, the Crown and the Defence have the opportunity to make legal arguments about whether the Crown has proven the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge will then decide the case, either immediately after the legal arguments or on a later date. If the judge decides you are not guilty, you will be free to leave. If you are found guilty, the matter will proceed to a sentencing hearing.

Q - How do I find an address for a courthouse?

A - Ontario Courthouse addresses are listed online here:

Q - How do I find out if I can get legal aid?

A - You can find out if you are eligible for legal aid and how to apply for it here:

If you have any questions not addressed above, please call or text 647-522-5290, or email:

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