Docket Court and Fingerprinting
When you receive a criminal charge you will be provided with an initial date for court, as well as a date to attend to provide your fingerprints to police. Fingerprints are required whenever a criminal charge is laid, and often arrangements can be made to visit a police detachment and provide fingerprints before the date listed on your promise to appear. Most often, your first court appearance will be scheduled for a later date than your fingerprint date.
The first court date is what is commonly referred to as a "first appearance" or a docket court day. A first appearance is not a trial date. It is not a date to tell the judge what happened or explain the situation. It is simply an administrative appearance in front of a judge in a courtroom, or sometimes a clerk at a wicket, in order to fulfill a number of judicial "housekeeping duties".
The initial stages of a criminal prosecution can seem to move slowly for someone not familiar with the process. However, many things need to be done during the first few months before someone can get into court for a trial, or sometimes even to enter a guilty plea.
- Disclosure needs to be collated, compiled, and produced by the police and Crown Prosecutors office.
- If you are in custody (jail) a bail hearing may have to be held.
- Defence counsel needs to request, receive and review your disclosure to:
- Assess and determine the strength of the Crown’s case.
- Assess and determine the strength of the defence’s case.
- Put together a game plan which best serves your needs, whether that means seeking to have a trial, or negotiating a deal.
- Crown Prosecutors need to be assigned to the file, and the file needs to be reviewed by the Crown Prosecutor and assessed on a number of levels including:
- Whether the case is prosecutable, where there is a "reasonable likelihood of conviction", or whether the charges should be outright stayed or withdrawn.
- How much time is required for trial?
- What witnesses are required?
- Is there room for negotiation with the defence in view of doing a deal?
All of these processes and procedures take time. This initial stage can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to complete. As the wheels of justice slowly turn, your first appearance will get adjourned (put off) from one docket court day to the next, to the next, until all preliminary housekeeping matters are dealt with. Once, and only once everything is in order, will it be time to make your election and plea.