Criminal Law...Top 6 Things You Can Do To Avoid A Criminal Record

Bernard Thibault – July 2017

Things are not good at home. You’ve had another argument with your spouse, but this time it’s gone too far and things have gotten physical.  You’ve either been invited to or hauled into the police station sitting in a small, sound-proofed room, staring at the surveillance camera strategically located in the top corner of the ceiling.  You know somewhere in a small, dark room, someone is watching you.  You’re waiting, for what seems to be an eternity, for an officer to come in and start grilling you about what happened.

What are you going to do?…. I’m gonna get the best lawyer money can buy! ….Wait… Hold on…Just stop for one moment.

The title of this piece is Top 6 things you can do …., not me, but you.  There is a saying which goes, “We can’t help those, who can’t help themselves” (source unknown).  Or you may be more familiar with the phrase, “Help me, help you!”  Yes, love him or hate him, Tom Cruise said this in the 1996 romantic comedy, Jerry Maguire.  For the record, I have no opinion with respect to said actor of film …. and will remain silent as to whether I even watched it.  This leads me to the very first of the six following things that you can do to help avoid receiving a criminal record.

1.  Remain silent! –  You absolutely do not need to speak to the police.  There is this thing called the Canadian Charter of Rights.  The Charter has a whole bunch of sections in it about protecting individual rights from actions of the state or any state agents, which include the police.  One of those protections is your right to remain silent.  Undoubtedly, you will want or feel like you should talk to the police.  In fact, the police will try to convince you to do so.  They’ll say things like, we just want to hear your side of the story, or all we have is your partner’s story and this is your last chance to tell the judge what happened, or the judge will see this video and how you’re acting and it won’t look good.  Please ignore whatever they say, and just don’t say anything. Don’t talk about your kids, what you like to do when you have free time, or even the game that was on television last night.  Your silence cannot be used against you in any way, period.  The only thing I would recommend you say is, “My lawyer advised me not to answer your questions and I have decided to accept his/her advice.”

2.  Follow your Undertaking or Recognizance – You’ll be released from the police station or from court with an Undertaking or Recognizance which sets out conditions for your behavior until your criminal charges are resolved.  These are Orders which may include conditions not to speak with your partner, or go to his/her place of residence or work.  If you want to improve your chances of getting out of this without a criminal record, then follow the Order.  If you do not, you can be charged with further criminal offences.  This will severely affect whether you can avoid a criminal record when your matter is resolved.

3.  Get a lawyer early – As soon as you are released, you should be looking for a lawyer ASAP.  You might think the court date in two months is a long time from now, but it is not.  It is hard to find the right lawyer.  We have busy schedules, and we are not always available.  Plus, you need to find someone who you are comfortable with.  Don’t take the first one.  Don’t take the one that charges the most.  Do your research; make sure he or she practices criminal law.  If so, and you trust this person, then retain this lawyer.  Be financially prepared to pay the fee.  If you want to avoid a criminal record, there is lots of work to do early.  This brings me to my next point, because you have some work to do as well.

4.  Be prepared – Attend your first lawyer meeting and make sure you have all the documents the police have given you when released from their custody.  This would normally include your Promise to Appear and Undertaking or Recognizance.  If your health contributed to your situation in any way, make sure you bring with you your physician’s contact information so you can provide this to your lawyer.  Your lawyer may want to speak with them or obtain a report from them.  Be prepared to talk about anything and everything you feel is important as it relates to your charges.  Understand that your conversations with your lawyer are confidential. You can feel safe that even the most sensitive or embarrassing information about you will not be communicated to anyone without your explicit instruction to do so.

5.  Reach out to your support network – Most people have two or three individuals in their life who are close to them and likely aware of the situation.  If they are supportive, they can help you deal emotionally with what has happened.  They can also be a valuable asset when trying to avoid receiving a criminal record.  You will want to think about who is closest to you and discuss only with your lawyer whether they will be suitable candidates to provide your lawyer with a letter of reference.  If so, your lawyer will know what to do from there.

6.  Be proactive – Are you charged with assault?  Were you angry or were you under the influence of alcohol or drugs when it happened? Did you damage someone else’s property? You can take steps to address any issues you may have with anger or substance use, and you can do this at any time on your own initiative.  Your lawyer should be able to tell you where you can get counselling services.  If you damaged property belonging to someone else, prepare to pay that person back – save some money.   Think of it this way – if you are convicted, the court will order that you do this anyway. If you are not convicted, then you are no further behind. Just don’t tell the police, your partner, or the Crown Attorney about any of this.  You should only discuss this with your defence lawyer.    The fact that you have taken proactive steps can be communicated to the Crown Attorney through your defence lawyer.  This communication is protected and privileged and cannot be used against you in your case, but you will not be protected if the information is communicated through anyone other than the lawyers.

If you have been charged with an offence against your spouse, you can contact a lawyer here at MDW Law.  We will be able to discuss your matter and work with you to develop the best plan possible to avoid a criminal record.

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