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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Vancouver Criminal Law

Should I talk to the police if I am arrested?

The safest thing to do is say nothing. If you are in custody at the police station or are being detained elsewhere (in a police car, at an alleged crime scene, etc.), be polite and respectful but firmly tell the police that you do not want to discuss anything with them. The only information you should offer is your name. Ask to speak to your lawyer if you have one or to an on-call legal aid lawyer if you don’t. Even if you tell the police you are not interested in talking, they will try to get you to talk. Don’t do it! Unless you are absolutely certain that you have done nothing wrong, you will only hurt yourself by trying to “talk your way out” of the situation. Plenty have tried and lived to regret it.

What are “particulars”?

The term “particulars” refers to the package of documents that the prosecutor gives you or your lawyer when you are charged with an offence. These documents include a summary prepared by the police of the evidence against you and things like witness statements and police officer’s notes.

What should I wear when I go to court?

Dress the way you would if you were interviewing for a job in an office or a bank. That means no jeans, shorts or runners. For men, I suggest a nice pair of dress pants or khakis and a shirt with a collar. For women, I recommend dress pants or a skirt and a shirt with a collar or a nice blouse. If you have suits and like to wear them, a conservative suit and tie are appropriate too.

What is the “Crown”?

The term “Crown” refers to the provincial or federal government, depending on the level of government that is responsible for prosecuting the charges that have been laid against you. Most charges are prosecuted by the provincial government or “Provincial Crown”. Drug offences are prosecuted by the “Federal Crown”.

What does “Crown counsel” mean?

Crown counsel is the prosecutor or government lawyer who represents the government in criminal cases.

What are “alternative measures”?

At the option of the prosecutor, the Crown can elect not to proceed with a case if the offender participates in an authorized program for offenders geared toward rehabilitation. The specific requirements for each offender are unique but usually include some form of counseling (e.g., anger management in an assault case) and mandatory community service (e.g., 20 hours at a shelter for homeless people). Upon completion of the required program, the Crown stays the charges and the accused avoids a criminal record for the offence.

What is a “conditional” or “absolute discharge”?

When an accused has been convicted of an offence or entered a guilty plea to it, as long as the offence does not carry a minimum sentence and does not have a maximum sentence of 14 years or more, the judge may “discharge” the accused rather than enter a conviction and sentence him or her. If you are “discharged”, you are “deemed” not to have been convicted. In plain English, that means that although you were convicted or pleaded guilty, in the eyes of the law you are treated as if you were never convicted at all and you do not receive a criminal record for the offence. When a discharge is conditional, it does not take effect until certain conditions have been satisfied. Usually the conditions include keeping the peace and being of good behaviour for at least a year.