We often get asked these questions – perhaps reading this page can help you before calling us.
Q: Why should I spend money hiring a lawyer – can’t I just represent myself?
There’s an old saying that goes – “The man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client”. That saying has never been more true than today. Canada’s criminal law has rapidly become a very complex mix of statutes, common law and precedent. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has dramatically improved the rights of accused persons but also tremendously complicated what would have otherwise been a simple trial.
Few people would ever consider saving a few dollars by performing life-saving surgery on themselves. Don’t risk your legal health – your job, your family, and your liberty – by trying to defend your own criminal case.
Q: I know I’m not getting a jail sentence for what I did, so why worry if I get convicted?
First of all, one can never know for sure what a sentence will be. Certain crimes (such as domestic assault, impaired driving, or possession of child pornography) have become so politically charged that crown attorneys are often seeking jail sentences even against first offenders who come from solid backgrounds with productive jobs.
Even if the crown is not seeking jail in your circumstance, the consequences of a criminal record can be extreme. A criminal conviction can bar you from many fields of employment or cause you to lose a job you already have. Criminal records may also prohibit you from travelling to certain countries including the United States where they are particularly tough on Canadians even with decade-old records for minor drug offences. Finally, a criminal record could have extremely serious immigration consequences if you are not a Canadian citizen. Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman always advises non-citizens charged with a criminal offence to seek legal advice from a qualified immigration lawyer about the possible consequences to their status in Canada.
Q: Why should I bother hiring a criminal lawyer – my real estate lawyer (or commercial / corporate / estates / family / etc.) says she can take my case?
Having a good rapport with a lawyer who has done your will, incorporated your business, or represented you in court on family or immigration matters is very important. However, effectively representing you in your criminal trial requires an entirely different set of skills and experience.
Criminal law is a very specialized field. New cases, statutes and regulations, change the way criminal charges are defended literally every day. Every criminal court house has its own unique procedures and rules that must be carefully understood by your lawyer.
A lawyer at Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman Criminal Law Firm will never agree to draw up your will, incorporate your business, or help you in your divorce. All we do each and every day is represent people in the criminal justice system. This means that our lawyers have a level of knowledge in the field of criminal law that a generalist can never achieve. If you are diagnosed with a heart condition, would you trust your medical care to a family doctor? How about an oncologist? Of course not – you would want the specialized care that only an experienced cardiologist can give. Why seek anything less for your legal care – trust Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman for your criminal law needs.
Q: But wouldn’t it be cheaper to hire a non-criminal lawyer to care for my case?
When it comes to something as potentially damaging as a criminal conviction, you really must ask yourself whether saving money should be your priority. However, you might be surprised to find that you can have the best of both worlds.
Because our lawyers have so much experience in the focussed area of criminal law, we can often do in ten hours, what might take your family lawyer thirty hours to do. This efficiency amounts to big cost savings to you – and you get the knowledge of a true criminal defence lawyer behind you.
Other lawyers usually bill you by the hour so that every minute they spend on your case costs you money. If you review our fee arrangement, you will see that we typically negotiate a block fee arrangement with our clients. This not only helps you set an accurate budget for your legal fees – it can often save you thousands of dollars.
Finally, you will find that with six lawyers at various levels of seniority, Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman can work with you to establish a budget that is reasonable while giving you access to highly specialized criminal litigators.
Q: When should I call a criminal lawyer?
Obviously, if you have been arrested by police, it’s time to call a good criminal lawyer. However, a phone call before you ever get arrested could save you loads of heartache – and money.
If you think you may have done something illegal but are unsure of the consequence, don’t wait for the police to get involved. BPS Criminal Law firm has advised many individuals and companies on the legality of their actions before any charges were laid. This puts you and your lawyer in control of the situation – not the crown attorney or police. A small investment of time and money early on could save you thousands of dollars down the line by preventing a charge from ever being laid. Even if charges do eventually come, you will be fully prepared to answer those charges and will have preserved all the evidence you need to prove your innocence.
Q: I’ve heard on TV that you should never make a statement to police – but that can’t apply to me. I’m innocent and haven’t done anything wrong. I’m sure if I just answer their questions, this will all go away.
The overriding urge to trust police officers is bred into us as children. When an officer knocks on your door, one often feels a compulsion to just explain the situation confident that the officer is on your side and will help you out.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
If police officers are asking you questions about your involvement in a crime, they are not doing this to help you. They are simply doing their jobs – trying to catch criminals. Every word you say to police officers will be written down in their notebooks and used to try to prove that you committed the crime they think you committed.
If the officer thought you weren’t guilty of anything, he or she wouldn’t be asking you questions.
Every person has the right to remain silent and it is a right that everyone – guilty or innocent – should exercise. If an officer is asking you questions, be firm but respectful and indicate to the officer that you do not wish to answer any questions until you have spoken with your lawyer.
Q: I’ve been charged with a first-time impaired driving. I know I’m only going to get the minimum fine. Why should I bother hiring a lawyer?
It’s true that in the vast majority of first-time impaired driving cases, you will likely be ordered to pay the minimum set fine of $1000.00 – but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
In addition to the set fine, the court often imposes a victim fine surcharge that increases the total amount you have to pay. On top of this, you can expect your car insurance premiums to triple at the very least.
Even on a first offence, your driver’s licence will be suspended for a minimum period of one year. No exceptions can be made for driving to work or for medical appointments.
Before you can get your licence back after the one year suspension you will have to take a “remedial measures” course called Back on Track. The course costs approximately $500 and takes about 11 months to complete so, if you don’t start it right away, you will be without your licence for even more than the one year it is suspended.
Even if you do get your licence back, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device in your car for a minimum of one year. This device acts like a breathalyser machine and you will have to blow into it each time you start your car and periodically while driving your car. Your will not be permitted to drive any car that does not have an ignition interlock device installed. The cost for installation and monitoring of this device is approximately $1300 per year and must be paid by you.
A $1000.00 fine with the victim fine surcharge, plus triple insurance premiums, plus the $500 course, plus the $1300 ignition interlock device … suddenly your small fine for a first offence could cost you over $10,000 in the first year alone. This monetary penalty is in addition to the year you will spend without your driver’s licence.
A second impaired driving conviction carries a minimum three year licence suspension and 30 days in jail. On a third conviction, your licence will be suspended for life and you will serve a minimum of 120 days in jail.
Q: I’ve been charged with a domestic assault against my wife. She doesn’t want to press charges. If she and I just explain the situation to the crown or police, won’t the charges be dropped and I’ll be allowed to move back home with my family?
Domestic assault charges apply in any case where a person is alleged to have assaulted someone that they have a spousal relationship with. This clearly applies to husbands and wives (even if they are separated and not living together) but can also include boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, same-sex relationships, common law marriages, and any relationship where a couple shares a child.
The crown attorney and police treat domestic assault allegations very seriously and apply a zero tolerance approach to their enforcement and prosecution.
Once a spouse has called police to report an assault, no amount of explaining or pleading will prevent a charge from being laid. In almost every case, the spouse alleged to have committed the assault will be arrested, held for a bail hearing, and not be permitted to return to the family home or have any contact with the other spouse and children, until after the trial is completed. These harsh actions will be taken even if the complaining spouse later claims that nothing happened and even if he / she does not want to ‘press charges’. Crowns will not drop these charges nor will they consent to conditions allowing the family to get back together.
In domestic assault cases it is vital that you retain a good criminal lawyer immediately. In many cases, it is wise for both spouses (even the one not charged with the offence) to hire lawyers. Our lawyers have a wealth of experience conducting bail hearings and trials for people in these difficult circumstances. Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman Criminal Law Firm has had great success convincing Judges and Justices of the Peace to allow families to live together for the many months it takes for a case to come to trial in our backlogged justice system.