The next component after charges are laid is the criminal court process. The average time that it takes for a case to go to court can vary. This depends on whether the alleged offender has been formally charged. This process can be longer if the accused is at warrant status and has not been formally notified of their charges. Every case is different and it is important fto know that the court process can take a significant amount of time.
The different court stages
1. When a file first goes to court, it will have a first appearance. On the first appearance, the courts will usually address:
- if an alleged offender has received theirdisclosure (all the information about the what they are being charged with)if they are planning to get a lawyer
- how they are planning to proceed
- if the alleged offender is in custody the first appearance, they may be to address bail. Bail sometimes is granted on the first appearance by a joint agreement between the Crown and the defence. If this occurs, it is often followed by conditions the alleged offender must follow. Sometimes the matter is put over to another day to gather more information in order to address bail and sometimes a bail hearing takes place. In a bail hearing, the Crown Prosecutor and the defence will argue their position on bail. The judge will make the final decision on whether the alleged offender will be released and what conditions the alleged offernder will need to follow
After the first appearance, there will often be several more court dates to gather all the information needed, for the alleged offender to hire a lawyer, and for them to decide how they are going to plead. It often takes some time to gather all this information and can take multiple court dates before all of this is completed and the accused pleads guilty or not guilty.
2. Once all the information has been addressed, the accused can:
- plead guilty and either be sentenced the same day or another date for sentencing can be set
- plead not guilty and a trial date will be set
3. After the trial has been completed and all evidence and witnesses needed have been presented, the judge will make the final decision (for more information about the decision, please see the follwing Possible Outcomes section).
The court process often takes a significant amount of time. It is not unusual for cases to take from months to years to be concluded. There is support for parents and their child during this time and the length of the process does not mean that concerns are not being taken seriously. There are many influences in the length of time a court case can take, including legal representation for an alleged offender and collecting appropriate paperwork (such as medical information, etc.).
Never promise a child that a certain outcome will happen. Be honest with them that it is not known what will happen, but assure them that their parent will be there whatever the outcome is.
Many different outcomes can occur at the criminal court level. These can include:
- a guilty plea followed by sentencing
- a not-guilty plea followed by a preliminary trial and/or a trial
- acquittal (individual found not guilty following a trial)
- withdrawal of a file being withdrawn
- a file being stayed
An alleged offender can plead guilty at any time in the process. Once an individual has plead guilty, they will either be sentenced on that day or an another court date will be set for a sentencing hearing. Sometimes a pre-sentence report will be ordered, which contains background information about the alleged offender that is important for the judge to be aware of when considering a sentencing.
At the sentencing hearing, the judge will be presented the details of the alleged offence and will be given submissions from the Crown and defence about what they believe to be an appropriate sentence . The judge will make a final decision and sentence the alleged offender.
Getting a lawyer
For the criminal court process, parents do not need a lawyer. The Crown Prosecutor is the lawyer assigned to prosecute each criminal court case. Their role is to act on behalf of public safety. An alleged offender will have the option of getting a defence lawyer, or representing themselves.
The only time parents might need a lawyer is if there are matters taking place in civil court. Such concerns as emergency protection orders, custody issues and property issues are all examples of civil or family court matters. For these situations, parents may want to seek the advice of a lawyer.
Family lawyers are not allowed to represent families in a criminal court case as it is the Crown Prosecutor who will prosecute the case.
Telling the child when the accused is found not guilty
It is important to communicate to a child that an acquittal (being found not guilty) does not mean that what happened was not real. The prosecutor needs to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the offence occurred. Sometimes there is not enough concrete evidence for the courts to find an individual guilty.
This outcome can be difficult to understand, especially when a parent sees the impact the abuse and court process has had on their child. Ensuring that the child is believed and that communication continues to reinforce that regardless of this finding, parents are are going to do their best to keep the child safe and to support them is invaluable. It is important to know that seldom does a court conclusion bring closure for individuals. The healing process if different for everyone and having supports along the way is key.
When the alleged perpetrator breaches conditions
It is a criminal offence to breach bail conditions. If the alleged offender is attempting to contact, attend a residence, or do anything contrary to their release conditions, the best thing to do is to notify the police.
If it is in the process of occurring, dial 9-1-1. Remain calm and provide the dispatcher accurate information about the location and the concerns. If for some reason the caller must leave the phone, the call should remain connected so the dispatcher can be aware of what is going on and send emergency services.
To report a breach in Calgary that occurred in the past and is not currently, in progress, call Calgary Police Services non-emergency at 403.266.1234 anddial ‘0’ after the number to go directly to a dispatcher. To report a breach that occurred in an area other than Calgary, contact your closest police detachment.
It is important to be as detailed as possible and to document the breaches that occur with as much information as possible. For example, take note of the date, time, location, people present and what occurred. It is also important to keep documentation of breaches by saving phone and text messages and keeping details in chronological order.
The difference between a No Contact Order, Emergency Protection Order and Restraining Order
All three of these are orders given by the courts that prohibits specific actions.
A No Contact Order is a criminal court order that restricts communication between two or more named people. An Emergency Protection Order and a Restraining Order are both civil court orders.
No Contact Order
No Contact Orders will have different conditions depending on the situation. For example, there may be no contact allowed directly or indirectly, some contact allowed through texts, or contact allowed only for certain reasons (such as child arrangements). A No Contact Order is part of a release order or sentence. It is a criminal offense to breach a No Contact order and a breach of a no contact order can result in further criminal charges.
Emergency Protection Order
An Emergency Protection Order (EPO) is applied for in the court of Queen’s Bench and is applied for to address the immediate safety of individuals. This court order is to specifically address safety concerns due to family violence. Victims of family violence, police and Child and Family Services can apply for an EPO and a judge can give permission for a friend or family member to apply for an EPO on the victim’s behalf. There is no cost for applying for an EPO. This order is granted by a judge and enforced by the police.
A Restraining Order (RO) restricts the conduct or contact between an individual and the individual(s) on the restraining order. An RO can be applied for with or without police assistance and is not limited to family violence situations. Once an RO is granted it will be for a set amount of time with a review date in place. The person(s) applying can appear in court and receive copies of the order, for themselves, for other people listed in the RO, a certified copy for the police and for the person to be served the RO.
Victim impact statement, restitution request and financial benefits package
Victim Impact Statement
A Victim Impact Statement (VIS) is a written statement by a victim that gives them the opportunity to express how they have been impacted by the crime. It is read as part of the court process, prior to sentencing. An individual writing the VIS can read the statement themselves or have someone read it on their behalf. A VIS cannot contain evidence about the case, suggestions on an outcome of court, or statements about the character of the alleged offender.
Many people find it helpful to write a VIS as it gives them an opportunity to share their story and express the personal and real impact the situation has had on them.
A Restitution Request is for compensation for any out-of-pocket expenses a victim has had to pay because of the crime. This would include such things as compensation for stolen or damaged property. Restitution can only be applied for if there are charges in place and if the matter is currently going through court. This is because, if granted, restitution would come from the convicted individual as part of a sentence. Once granted, there is a specific amount required to pay, who it is to be paid to and a time that it must be paid by.
Financial Benefits Package
Anyone who has been injured emotionally or physically can apply for one-time financial compensation for the injuries sustained through the Financial Benefits Package. The money does not come from the alleged offender, but comes from the Government of Alberta. Applications for financial benefits must be within two years of the event and the event has to have been reported to police. To apply, an individual must complete an applicationform and send it to the Solicitor General’s office in Edmonton. Financial benefits will be given only to the direct victim of the crime. Guardians can apply on behalf of their child and, if granted, the money will be held until the child is 18.