Canadian Disclosure and Charge Screening
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, an accused person has a number of rights. Included in these rights is the right to make full answer and defence. This means that the accused has a right to know what evidence the Crown has against them and to have that evidence disclosed in a timely manner. The Canadian criminal justice system is premised on the notion of fairness, and disclosure is one way in which the system tries to ensure that all accused persons are treated fairly.
Today, we will discuss exactly what a disclosure entails, including charge screening forms, which are often an important component of the Canadian criminal trial process.
In Canada, the Crown is required to disclose all evidence to the defence that may be used at trial. This includes police notes, pictures, 911 calls, witness statements, and any other relevant information. The defence also has the right to request disclosure from the Crown. The disclosure process can take several months in some cases, such as when the accused is facing serious charges.
The purpose of disclosure is to allow the defence to assess what evidence the Crown has against the accused and to prepare their defence accordingly. It is also meant to ensure that all accused persons have a fair trial.
Disclosure is usually provided at the first appearance in criminal court, which you can read more about here.
What is Charge Screening?
A charge screening form is often included in a disclosure package. It outlines whether the Crown plans to move forward with a summary conviction or an indictment and the sentence the prosecution plans to seek.
We have a detailed post on summary convictions versus indictments here. For now, here is a brief overview of each:
A summary conviction is the less serious of the two options and is typically used for less serious offences. The Government of Canada explains: “Unless otherwise provided by law, every person who is convicted of an offence punishable on summary conviction is liable to a fine of not more than $5,000 or to a term of imprisonment of not more than two years less a day, or to both.”
An indictment is used for more serious offences, and can result in a sentence of between two years up to life in prison.
In the event of what’s known as a hybrid offence, the Crown can choose to proceed with either a summary conviction or an indictment, depending on the severity of the offence and other factors.
Some examples of summary convictions include trespassing or disturbances in a public place. Murder or attempted murder would be indictable offences, and sexual assault is a hybrid offence.
The Crown prosecutor makes the decision of whether to proceed by summary conviction or indictment after reviewing the police report and any other relevant information.
Plea Bargains and Early Resolution
A charge screening form can also be used to indicate that the Crown is open to the idea of a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement between the accused and the Crown where the accused pleads guilty to a lesser offence in exchange for a lighter sentence. For example, if an accused is facing a charge of assault, they may agree to plead guilty to a minor charge of disturbing the peace in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Plea bargains are often used as a way to resolve cases without going to trial. This can save everyone involved significant time and money.
Whether or not to accept a plea bargain is up to the accused. They should always consult with their defence lawyer before making any decisions.
Read more about the Canadian criminal trial process in Ontario in this article.
If the Crown does not provide adequate disclosure, the defence can make a motion to stay the charges. This means the charges against the accused are effectively “on hold,” though not technically dropped. If you are facing criminal charges, it is vital to speak to a lawyer about the disclosure process. They can determine whether you have received all of the information you are entitled to and whether a stay is appropriate.
FAQs about Disclosure and Charge Screening Forms
Next, we will answer some common questions many Canadians have about disclosure and charge screening forms.
How do I get disclosure for criminal charges in Ontario?
In Ontario, you will often receive disclosure at your first appearance in criminal court, but depending on a variety of factors, it can take longer. If you do not receive disclosure at your arraignment, you can ask the Crown prosecutor for it. If they refuse, you can ask the judge to order the Crown to provide disclosure. The accused does not have to pay for the initial disclosure, but if that copy is lost or additional copies are requested, this could require payment.
What if I’m not happy with the disclosure I received?
If you feel that the disclosure you received is incomplete or inadequate, you can ask the Crown prosecutor for more information. If they refuse or cannot provide more details, you can ask the judge to order the Crown to provide additional disclosure.
How long can the police take to charge you with a crime in Canada?
Summary convictions, which we outlined above, are subject to a statute of limitations in Canada. This means that there is a time limit for when the charges can be laid. For most summary offences, the time limit is six months from the date of the offence.
For indictable or hybrid offences, there is no time limit for when charges can be laid. This means that an accused can be charged with an offence even if it happened many years ago.
In Closing: Canadian Disclosure and Charge Screening
When you are facing criminal charges in Ontario, hiring a criminal defense lawyer is in your best interest. Criminal lawyers have the necessary experience and knowledge to navigate the disclosure process and help you understand your options, including determining your next steps based on your charge screening form. Don’t go through the criminal trial process alone – get help from the Ontario criminal defence lawyers at KIVLaw.