1)The police want to talk to me about a matter, I think I may be charged with a criminal offence, what do I need to know?

The two most important pieces of advice that a criminal defence lawyer can give you are:

A) Keep your mouth shut.  In legal terms you want to “exercise your constitutional right to remain silent”; in laymen terms, don’t talk to anyone about your case or situation, not the police or even close family or friends until you have had a chance to contact criminal defence counsel and discuss your situation thoroughly.  

B) Contact a criminal defence lawyer immediately.  Tell the police that you wish to contact a criminal defence lawyer RIGHT NOW or as soon as you can reasonably get to a telephone.  You will have little concept of the nature and scope of the jeopardy you are in and a criminal lawyer can give you immediate perspective.  Even if you never intend on hiring a defence lawyer to defend your case, take 10 minutes and call one before you go down to the station or even call a criminal defence lawyer from the station, the call is free so make use of it.

2) I’m innocent! The police are my friends. I’m in no jeopardy….am I ?

Actually you are in grave jeopardy and the police are not your friends.  The objective of the police is to assign blame to someone and charge SOMEONE with a criminal offence.  If the evidence points in your direction, whether it is accurate or not, whether it is credible or not, whether it is fabricated or not, you are in jeopardy.  

Moreover, the police seldom reveal their true motives during the course of a criminal investigation.  You will not know whether they are interested in talking to you as a witness to a crime or a party to a crime, or conceivably both.  You will be told very little, asked to reveal a great deal, and by the time you figure out what is going on it will be too late.

3) I’m innocent! This is Canada. No Judge or Jury will actually convict me of a crime I did not commit ….will they?

Unfortunately the Canadian Justice System doesn’t guarantee the guilty are convicted and the innocent are acquitted.  Just ask William Mullins-Johnson who was spent a third of his life in prison for a murder that may have never taken place, or James Driskell who spent 12 years in jail on the basis of evidence from government paid snitches.   Or how about David Milgaard who was spent 23 years of his life locked up before exoneration, not to mention Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall, Robert Baltovich, Kyle Unger, the list goes on into the hundreds, all of them innocent men which had their freedom stripped and their lives destroyed by Judges and Juries right here in Canada.  

The system is far from perfect, fraught with human prejudices, frailties and vices.  The only way you can protect yourself from being convicted is by retaining the very best to stand beside and protect you in a court of law.

4) I did it, so I’ll save some cash and just plead guilty on my own.

Go ahead.  You will receive a criminal record.  You may go to jail, or receive a substantial fine or be subject to onerous and a lengthy period of probation.  Often the best long term investment can be retaining a competent criminal defence lawyer upfront so that he/she can negotiate a plea deal you can live with, saving you grief and money down the road.

5) Ok. I want to hire a criminal defence lawyer. Who should I hire ? What do I need to look for?

Do your homework.  Reputation, experience and cost are all relevant considerations.  Hire the best criminal lawyer you can afford, usually you get what you pay for but also be cognizant that the best defence lawyer is not ALWAYS the most expensive. Be wary of “guarantees” or pressure sales pitches, in criminal defence work NOTHING is guaranteed, and you are not buying a car or a washing machine so don’t be pressured into retaining a criminal defence lawyer you don’t feel comfortable with.

Meet with your prospective defensive counsel, the first consultation with legitimate counsel should always be free.  Ask relevant questions:

  • How many of these KINDS of cases have you defended before ?
    • The more the better.
  • What is your success rate ?
    • Success rates are an indicator of a criminal defence lawyer’s true legal acumen and one of the best indicators of your chances of a good result.  
    • Sometimes criminal defence lawyers with very good success rates are the “high profile” ones you might have seen on the T.V. or read about in the newspaper, however most tend to be counsel which prefer to “fly below the radar” but who enjoy some astounding success rates.
  • What is the criminal defence lawyer’s fee structure like ?
    • Is it hourly or a flat rate fee?  
    • Which fee structure is more advantageous to you ?
    • Is the fee realistically within your budget ? There is no sense retaining a lawyer you ultimately cannot afford.

6) I am down and out and haven’t got a cent to my name. Can someone still help me ?

In Canada there is no automatic right to state funded counsel, however, there are a number of low cost options available such as a lawyer appointed under a government issued Legal Aid Certificate as well as a law student from the University of Calgary Student Legal Services.  As a general rule the Senior lawyers of Dunn & Associates are retained privately, however if you are unable to finance your own defence you may still be eligible to retain one of our criminal defence lawyers via a government issued Legal Aid Certificate.