Legal Aid Research Series Court Side Study of Adult Unrepresented Accused in the Provincial Criminal Courts Part 1: Overview Report


Figure 5.1 Most Frequently Cited Errors Made by Unrepresented Accused Prior to Trial
Stage Error or Omission
Arrest and Earliest Stages Not calling Brydges emergency legal advice number. Failing to show up for fingerprinting, resulting in a new charge. Believing that if they are innocent, they do not need a lawyer. Not understanding their Charter rights or when they have been breached, the law of search and seizure, etc.
First Appearance Not knowing when to plead guilty. Failing to appear, and not understanding that a failure to appear will affect, e.g., the likelihood of bail the next time. Testing the tolerance levels of judges by seeking multiple postponements. Not being aware of their entitlement to disclosure.
Pretrial Release Not availing themselves of counsel because they “cannot wait” to argue for their release. Conducting the bail hearing without disclosure. Not understanding, or agreeing to release conditions that are unworkable, e.g., no-contact clauses with spouses with whom they have some legitimate contact or with whom they have joint responsibilities (e.g., transport of children to school).
Diversion Not knowing of the existence of diversion opportunities. Not asking to be considered for diversion.
Plea Pleading guilty “just to get it over with.” Pleading guilty as soon as they are denied bail, in order to get out of jail Pleading guilty when they have a viable defence. Pleading guilty before seeing the disclosure. Not knowing how to assess the strength of the Crown’s case. Pleading guilty to offences they did not commit. Pleading guilty to all the original charges (not knowing that Crowns may have a practice of withdrawing certain charges). Not pleading to charges more in keeping with the actual behaviour. Not asking that certain charges be dropped. Not knowing the usual sentence for the offence. Not understanding the consequences of a conviction, e.g. Next time the charges will be higher and the failure to appear charge will not be dropped.­ Impacts on getting or keeping certain jobs, driving prohibitions, crossing international borders, entering the military, etc. Considering only whether or not they will be sent to jail or deported.

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