What you need to know if you have been charged with a crime
If you are charged with a crime, understanding how the criminal justice system works will help you to make decisions about how to deal with your situation.
The following is intended to provide information only. Being charged with a crime is serious, and it is a good idea to speak to a lawyer about your options. You have the right to hire a lawyer to represent you. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can contact Legal Aid (1-866-845-3425) and see if they can help you.
If you are arrested, the police may take you before a justice of the peace or judge for a judicial interim release or “bail” hearing. You may be required to attend in person, or you may appear by phone or video conference.
At this hearing, the judge will decide if you should be released or held in custody until your trial. In most cases, you can only be held in custody if the Crown shows that this is necessary for one of three reasons:
- To make sure you show up for your court appearances
- For the public’s protection and safety
- In order to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice
Under certain serious circumstances, it is your responsibility (onus) to show why you should be released.
If the judge decides that you should be released, there may be conditions set for your release. This might involve setting rules that you need to follow, finding someone who is willing to supervise and vouch for you (a “surety”) or paying money into court.
You have the right to consult with a lawyer and to hire a lawyer to represent you at your bail hearing. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can contact Legal Aid (1-866-845-3425) and see if they can help you.
First Appearance Important Steps
When you are charged with an offence, you must appear in Court according to the document you received from the police. This is called First Appearance.
BEFORE your First Appearance:
- If you are going to hire a lawyer, do so immediately. They can make sure you are ready if you hire them well before court.
- Contact the Crown prosecutor's office to get a copy of the police investigation file (disclosure). This will tell you why you are charged and what the evidence is against you. Crown Office contact information is in the pamphlet Information for self-represented litigants in Provincial Court: Adult Criminal Court. The Crown will not be able to give you disclosure at your First Appearance if you do not contact them before that date.
- If you do not have a lawyer, get other information or help right away. This is your case and your responsibility. Do not wait until the day of court.
- If you need more time to hire a lawyer, or get more information or help, ask a court counsellor (duty counsel, Native Counselling Services) to help you explain this to the Judge.
- Use the links and resources on this site to find information about the law and the Alberta Courts. Read the pamphlets below.
- Decide what to plea before your first appearance. You may plead guilty or not guilty. Duty counsel will be there to help. If you plead not guilty you will be setting a trial date.
- The Judge may ask you questions to find out if you are prepared for your trial (see pamphlets below for more information)
If you do not take these steps to prepare for your First Appearance, you will have to explain to the court why. The court may not give you more time.
Information for self-represented litigants
If you are charged with a criminal offence, it is a good idea to speak to a lawyer about your options. You have the right to hire a lawyer to represent you. However, you also have the right to represent yourself – this is called being “self-represented.”
The pamphlet Information for self-represented litigants in Provincial Court: Adult Criminal Court helps people who are self-represented to prepare for their trial and to understand more about the criminal trial process.
The pamphlet You’ve been charged with a crime: What you need to Know provides general information about how the criminal justice system works, what happens during the criminal trial process and it sets out some of the options for obtaining a lawyer.