What to Expect

If you have been contacted by the police or if you expect to be charged with a criminal offence, you should seek legal advice. Reading this site or others is no substitute for getting legal advice by speaking to a lawyer.

Sometimes after the police investigate a complaint, or observe what they believe may be criminal conduct, they issue an appearance notice and that simply directs you to attend court at a certain date for a certain charge. An officer may also request that you attend the police station in order to be arrested and charged. If you do not attend the officer may obtain a warrant for your arrest, or may arrest you directly without warrant if he believes you were committing a crime.

Turning yourself in


It is not a good idea to hide from the police. It is a good idea to get a lawyer to find out what the police want and to set up a convenient time for you to turn yourself in so that the police can arrest or book you. The lawyer may be able to get the police to commit to releasing you after being charged. If not the lawyer can usually arrange a convenient time to have the arrest take place so that you can be processed and transferred to court in a timely fashion so that you are likely to get bail the same day. You do not generally want to turn yourself in at 3:00pm on a Friday to be held over in custody until Monday for a bail hearing.



Promise to Appear

When arrested you may be released on a promise to appear, which is a paper which you will be asked to sign stating a date when you are to attend court. Typically there is also a promise to appear at the police station in order to be finger printed. Although people quiet often take offence to having their finger prints taken, it is of extreme importance that you attend to have them taken at the appointed time. If you do not attend you will be charged with failure to appear, for which the crown quite often seeks a jail sentence.

Bail Hearing

If you are not released either from your arrest location or from the police station after signing a promise to appear, then you will be held for a bail hearing. A bail hearing is a court proceeding to determine if you should be allowed to be released from custody pending the trial of your case. In most cases the crown must show why you out to be detained in custody, but in a growing number of circumstances the accused person must show that he ought to be released. Regardless of who must show the cause for detention or release the factors to be considered at a bail hearing are whether the accused is likely to flee or attend court and comply with conditions that the court might impose on him/her; whether the accused person is likely to reoffend; and the strength of the case against the accused.


A surety is a person who will act as a supervisor. Someone who will ensure that the accused person attends court, does not breach his conditions of release and does not reoffend. A surety typically is asked to pledge a sum of money, that he understands he will forfeit, if he reneges, on his duties as a surety.

Usually the surety need only demonstrate that he/she has the money and does not have to pay the funds into court. A cash bail can be required. If the accused person then breaches a condition of his bail and the surety knows of the breach but does not inform the police or if the surety fails to supervise the accused in terms of court attendances and maintaining his conditions, then the crown may make application to the court to obtain the money posted for bail. Funds do not automatically default to the crown if the accused is rearrested for another offence or alleged to have breached a condition of his release. The crown must show that the surety did not properly supervise and did not report, if the surety had knowledge of a breach or contravention of the bail condition or terms.

Terms of Release and Varying Bail Conditions

It is important to request terms of release that you can live by. Frequently, an accused person will agree to virtually anything in order to get out on bail. Once out though he may find that he does not wish to be confined to his house 24 hours a day, which he needs to be out past his curfew of 12 O’clock because he works midnight shifts or that he has to have some contact with an individual because they are classmates at school. Once the conditions of the bail are imposed by a Justice of the Peace the crown must consent to the bail conditions being varied, as must the surety. If the crown will not consent to the variation of bail conditions then the only alternative is to bring an application for bail variation in the Superior Court. While this is quite often successful it is also quite often cost and time prohibitive. It is much better to be released on reasonable conditions that allow the accused person reasonable freedom. If a condition is not necessary to protect the public or ensure compliance and or attendance, then it ought not to be imposed and the accused ought not to consent to it. Bail conditions are not supposed to be a punishment.

If Bail is denied


If bail is denied then the accused has options which differ depending on whether or not he is a youth or an adult. If the Accused person is a young person under the Youth criminal Justice Act, then he can have an “Bail De Nova” after 2 clear days. This means that he or she can serve notice on the crown and have a Judge of the Youth Court rather than a Justice of the Peace do a new bail hearing as if the youth had not had a bail hearing at all. The significance of this is that it is faster and cheaper. There is minimal paperwork involved and the young person does not have to wait for transcripts of the original bail hearing to be produced. If the young person is still detained, after the bail de novo, then he or she can bring an application for bail review to the Superior Court of Justice. The application must be filed in accordance with the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which include the mandatory filing of transcripts for the proceedings to be reviewed. A substantial change in circumstances of the accused or an error in law by the lower court or the expiry of a mandatory review period is necessary in order to bring the application for bail review.

The Trial Process


After the issue of bail has been determined and the accused person is either released or held in custody a first appearance date will be set. This date will be set by the promise to appear if no bail was required. At the first appearance the crown will usually have substantial and sometimes all of the disclosure material available. This material will be turned over to defence counsel.

Another date will be set to return to court. This date will typically be 3-4 weeks in the future.

Pretrial/Resolution Meeting

This will allow counsel time to read through the disclosure, discuss it with the client and then set up a crown pretrial, or resolution meeting. this is a meeting ususally held over the telephone. the crown attorney and defence counsel will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the case and whether or not a resolution is possible. If it does not appear possible then the crown and defence will discuss how long a trial would take whether there are any charter issues or special motions to be brought prior to the trial. If there are such motions, will the be integrated into the trial or blended with the trial evidence or held separately in a “voire dire” which is a trial of a constitutional, technical, procedural or evidentiary issue within the trial. How many witnesses are necessary and perhaps the order that the witnesses might be called and the time that it might take to have them testify and be cross-examined may be discussed, as well.

Judicial Pretrial

Some cases require judicial pretrials in order to proceed to trial. Here the estimates for time and witnesses as well as application or motion issues will be discussed with the crown and the judge. Judicial input sometimes assists in more accurate estimates. Judicial imput may also influence one party or another to consider a particular strength or weakness to a case. This may help the parties reach a resolution agreement or realize that no resolution is possible before trial.

Possible Resolutions




The best result is for the crown to realize that it has no reasonable prospect for conviction and withdraw the case against the accused. This puts an end to the proceedings. There is no criminal record.


Diversion is a method of resolving a case by having the accused person accept responsibility for his conduct and performing some community service, making a donation, attending counseling, writing a letter of apology or some combination of those or other good deeds. Once the good work is done to the satisfaction of the crown the charge is typically withdrawn. Some jurisdictions do not withdraw the charge but rather stay the charge, which essentially means that the charge does not proceed although it is not withdrawn.

Peace Bond

A peace bond is a promise made by a person, committing to abide by the conditions of a court order. This is not an admission of guilt and typically results in the withdrawal of the charge against the accused once he/she agrees to enter into the bond. Nevertheless the accused person promises to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for the period of the bond, usually 12 months. Other conditions can be attached to the bond as well, including not to have contact with a certain person, not to be in the possession of drugs, not to attend or be near a certain location or virtually any thing else that the court might deem appropriate. The person entering the bond is also required to pledge an amount of money (hence the term bond) that he might forfeit if he breaches a term of the bond. This is not a criminal record, however breach of the bond would constitute a criminal offence of breaching a court order. If a breach of the bond does occur the person bound by the peace bond could be charged with Breach of a Court Order, in addition to or in lieu of loosing the funds that he pledged.

It is becoming increasingly popular for the court to force a person who it has just found innocent or acquitted, to enter a peace bond. This allows the court to acknowledge reasonable doubt in the crown’s case against the accused person, but still provides some protection to the alleged victim.


There are two types of discharges: absolute and conditional. Neither type of discharge constitutes a criminal record. This is because although the court makes a finding of guilt, no conviction is entered against the accused. There is therefore no record of conviction. It is the record of conviction that constitutes a “criminal record.” There are no conditions attached to an absolute discharge. Three years following the absolute discharge the discharge is automatically expunged and essentially becomes the equivalent of a pardon. A conditional discharge becomes absolute after the expiry of the conditions ordered by the court. These conditions can be virtually anything that the court deems appropriate are generally the same sorts of conditions that might be attached to a less serious peace bond or a more serious probation order. Discharges must not be contrary to the public interest and must be in the interest of the accused person. In addition there must be no minimum sentence applicable to the offence in order to qualify for a discharge.


Conviction is the finding of guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt, and the entering of a criminal record.

Suspended Sentence

A suspended sentence is a sentence that is interrupted after conviction. This makes the penalty the criminal record itself. A suspended sentence is quite often imposed with probation attached.


Probation is intended to be a rehabilitative rather than a punative tool. This is accomplished by attaching conditions like: must attend alcohol counseling, drug treatment, refrain from contact with a certain person(s), refrain from being within 500m of a certain location, etc. There can also be a condtion to report to a probation officer. This allows the probation officer to supervise the probation and compliance with the conditions of probation including attendance at the probation office. A breach of one or more of the conditions will result in another criminal charge: Breach of Probation. The probation period itself is a tool to keep the convicted person on the lawful path. Arrest for another criminal offence will result in an additional breach of probation charge, because the new criminal offence will be deemed, by the police, to be a breach of the standard probation condition, to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.


The significant difference between the familiar Highway Traffic Act fine and a fine levied under the Criminal Code of Canada, is that, the latter carries with it a criminal record.

Conditional Sentence

A Conditional Sentence is the next step up. It is considered custody, in the community. It is what is commonly called house arrest. This sentence is being constantly restricted to fewer and fewer applicable offences and circumstances. The sentence is only available if the sentence that would otherwise have been imposed is less than 2 years in custody. There are additional statutory and common law restrictions on the imposition of conditional sentence as well.


Jail is the imposition of confinement at a correctional institution. If the period of jail is less than two years it will be served at a provincial detention center. If the period of incarceration is two years or greater than the term of incarceration will be served at a federal prison (Intermittent Sentence).

If the period of jail is 90 days or less than an intermittent sentence may be imposed. This is a jail sentence typically served on the weekends to allow the inmate to attend work during the week.

Stay of Proceedings

A Stay of Proceedings is the stoppage or suspension of the proceedings against the accused without a determination of the merits of the case. The case is stopped before an acquittal or conviction is entered, but since everyone is innocent until proven guilty the end result is that the accused person is innocent and is removed from jeopardy. A stay is typically entered because of procedural unfairness to the accused person. His or her rights were violated in some fashion that was severe enough to deny him or her the ability to have a fair trial. Examples of this are cases where the delay in trying the case is so great that the right to a trial within a reasonable time has been denied. Denial of the right to counsel, misconduct or abuse of process, the loss or unavailability of evidence, or some combination thereof might also result in a stay of proceedings. With regard to criminal proceedings a stay of proceedings is a win for the defence.


Acquittal is he determination that the crown has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the person accused of a crime has committed the crime. This determination can be made by either a judge or a jury depending on what mode of election the defence made if an election is afforded by the charge.

Conditional Sentences, Probation and Discharges


This script explains the following three penalties, called “sentences,” that a court can give if it convicts you of a crime under the Canadian Criminal Code or Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:

  • a conditional sentence.
  • probation.
  • a discharge.

Both the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are available at laws.justice.gc.ca. Click on “English” and then on “Consolidated Acts”. Then scroll down to the name of the law.

The script does not:

  • cover sentences under other federal laws (for example, the Fisheries Act) or provincial laws (for example, the Motor Vehicle Act); in those cases, the possible penalties are different and probation works differently.
  • explain other possible sentences – fines, jail, or licence suspensions.
  • apply to anyone under 18 years old; for information about young people and criminal law, check scripts 225, called “Young People and Criminal Law” and 226, called “Youth Justice Court Trials.”

If you’re charged with a criminal offense, talk to a criminal defense lawyer before you plead guilty or admit anything to the police or prosecutor (also called Crown Counsel or Crown). A lawyer can tell you if you have a defense to the charge, or if the Crown can prove the case against you. Then you can decide what to do. Also, check scripts:

  • 211, called “Defending Yourself Against a Criminal Charge” 
  • 212, called “Pleading Guilty to a Criminal Charge”
  • 205, called “Criminal Records and Applying for a Record Suspension”

What is a conditional sentence?
A conditional sentence is a jail sentence that you serve in the community, instead of in jail. Judges will use a conditional sentence only if they are satisfied that you won’t be a danger to the community and you don’t have a history of failing to obey court orders. A judge can’t give you a conditional sentence if the sentence is longer than 2 years, if the law sets a minimum jail term, or if the Criminal Code lists the crime as a violent offense. A conditional sentence usually has strict conditions, including a curfew. If you disobey the conditions, a judge can send you to jail for the rest of the time left on your sentence.

What is probation?
Probation is a sentence that requires you to follow certain conditions for a set time that can last up to 3 years. During that time, you must follow the terms of the probation order. Usually, that means you must keep the peace, be of good behaviour, report regularly to a probation officer, and keep the probation officer informed of your current address. Depending on the offence, you may also have to report to a probation officer periodically, avoid certain people, avoid using alcohol and drugs, attend counseling, pay back damages you caused to the victim, or perform community service. The judge still convicts you of the offense, but then suspends the sentence and releases you on probation. 

Probation may be the only penalty, or it can be combined with other penalties, including a fine, a discharge, or a jail term less than 2 years. But a judge can’t give a person all three penalties of jail, a fine, and probation. You could get the following combinations: a fine and probation, or jail and probation, or jail and a fine. The judge may also order you to perform up to 240 community service hours and receive counseling.

If you don’t follow the terms of your probation, you can be charged with breach of probation. If you’re convicted of breach of probation, the court can cancel your probation and sentence you for both the original offense and breach of probation. The usual penalty for breach of probation is a jail term.

What is a discharge?
A discharge means that the judge finds you guilty, but then discharges you instead of convicting you. A discharge is usually only available for more minor offences and if you have no history of similar offences. You have to convince the judge that a discharge is appropriate. The judge considers your character and whether a discharge is against public policy. 

There are two types of discharge: absolute and conditional. Most discharges are conditional.

A conditional discharge means you’re on probation with conditions (described above). If you obey the conditions until the end of the probation, then the law treats you as if you had not been convicted of a crime. But if you don’t obey the conditions, or you don’t finish the probation, you can be charged with breach of probation.

An absolute discharge means that you immediately have no criminal record.

The police and courts keep records of discharges under the Criminal Records Act. If you’re convicted of a criminal offense later, the court can consider your earlier discharge. And if the police check your record, they might see your discharge. The RCMP removes from its records absolute discharges 1 year after the date of the sentence and conditional discharges 3 years after the date of the sentence. But for all discharges before July 24, 1992, you have to make a written request to remove the discharge.

If you want to ensure the RCMP remove your discharge, get more information from their website at www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca. Click on “English”, then on “Criminal Records Check” and then on “Pardon and Purge Services”. You can also go to the website index to find the section on pardons and purges. Also, check script 205, called “Criminal Records and Applying for a Record Suspension”, for more information. As of March 2012, a “pardon” is called “record suspension”. But the RCMP website still uses the term “pardon”.

What other orders can a judge make?
If you get a conditional sentence, probation, or a conditional discharge, the judge can also:

  • make a “no go order” (or “no contact order”) to ensure you have no contact with a particular person or place.
  • prohibit you from having any firearms or other weapons, like knives.
  • order you to give a sample of your DNA for the DNA National Data Bank if the Crown asks for this.
  • make a compensation order allowing the person whose property was damaged to sue you in civil court.

The judge must also make you pay a victim surcharge, which is 15% of any fine you got. If you didn’t get a fine, the surcharge is $50 for a summary offense (minor offense) and $100 for an indictable offense (more serious offense). The judge can also make the surcharge a higher amount. This surcharge is in addition to any other fine you get. If you do not have money to pay the surcharge, you can ask the judge not to impose it.

[updated April 2012]