Criminal Matters

Offences

There are different kinds of offences – some are criminal offences that are charged under the Criminal Code and others are regulatory offences that involve a similar court process but will not result in a criminal record if you are convicted. Examples of regulatory offences include charges under the Motor Vehicles Act, the Wildlife Act or the Fisheries Act.  Both criminal and regulatory offences require that a “charge” be filed against you in court.

How does a charge proceed in court?

How does a charge get laid?

When you are charged with something, a peace officer will have to swear an “information” or a ticket before a justice of the peace. The officer will have to swear that they have reasonable grounds to believe you committed the offence you are being charged with and provide some details about why they have that belief. The information or ticket has to be in court when you appear for a court date.

There will also be a document that compels you to come to court. This could be a summons that is part of a ticket, or a summons signed by a justice of the peace. It could also be document given to you by a police officer after you are arrested, for example an appearance notice.

What are my rights when I am charged with an offence?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights of someone charged with an offence. For example, with either a criminal or regulatory offence, you must be told what you are being charged with. If you are arrested, you have the right to speak to a lawyer. 

With a criminal offence, you cannot be compelled to make a statement or provide information to anyone in a position of authority, including police officers. With regulatory offences there may be a legal requirement to provide certain information or reports.

You also have a right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. This law is complicated though, and a police officer is able to search you or your property in certain circumstances.

Once you are charged with something, you have the right to “disclosure”. The prosecutor must provide you with details about the case they have against you, including any evidence that would help you with your defence.

The Charter includes other guarantees as well. If you think your rights were infringed or you want to know more about the rights you have in a criminal or regulatory proceeding, you should speak with a lawyer. 

Can I change release conditions imposed by the police?

If you were arrested and released by a police officer after agreeing that you will follow certain conditions, you can apply to the court to change those conditions. 

What happens at a first court appearance?

Your first court appearance will typically be before a justice of the peace. If you were not held in custody, the justice will start asking about decisions that will inform the court proceedings, for example about Crown election in a criminal offence and whether you have a lawyer. The prosecutor may provide you with some documents about your case ("disclosure"). 

Your first appearance will be in a courtroom with a lot of other people who have just been charged with something, so you should be prepared to wait if you do not have a lawyer. There is no expectation that you have made any decisions about how you are going to plead or whether you will hire a lawyer. If you have not made a decision about something you are asked about, just say that you want some time to think about it. 

When you go to court for the first appearance on a criminal offence, there will be a lawyer in the courtroom that can provide information and basic advice to a defendant. This person is called "duty counsel" and you should talk to them if you have any questions.

After your appearance, your charge will be adjourned to another date. For a criminal charge, you (or your lawyer) will likely appear several times before a trial or sentencing date is set.

Can I represent myself in court?

Yes, but depending on how serious the charges are and whether you are pleading guilty or having a trial, you may want to hire a lawyer.

If you cannot afford a lawyer and you are charged with a criminal offence, you can talk to Legal Aid about whether they will accept your case. There are also resources online that can help you represent yourself.

What is a regulatory offence?

What is the difference between a criminal offence and a regulatory offence?

A regulatory offence is a violation of a law that is not a criminal law. A conviction will not give you a criminal record. Common examples are offences under Yukon’s Motor Vehicles Act or Wildlife Act or an offence against a City of Whitehorse Bylaw.

Although the court process for a regulatory offence is like the process for a criminal offence, it is often easier for a prosecutor to prove a regulatory offence. With a regulatory offence you can also often plead guilty and pay a fine without ever appearing in court.

I received a ticket for a regulatory offence – what are my options?

A ticket will set out three options.

  1. You can plead guilty to the charge(s) by paying the fine at the court registry;
  2. You can plead not guilty to the charge(s) and request a court date for a trial; or
  3. You can plead guilty to the charge(s) and ask for court time. You would do this if there is something you want to tell a judge about what happened that you think means you should receive a lower fine or if there is something about your circumstances that means you need time to pay your fine.

If you want to plead guilty but can’t pay the fine right away, you can take a copy of the ticket to the court registry and attach a note about why you need more time to pay and how long it will take you. A justice of the peace will read the note and decide how much extra time you can have.

If you do not pay a ticket, you will be automatically convicted of the offence and may be required to pay a higher fine. This can be up to double the amount shown on the ticket.

How can I get my vehicle out of impound?

If your vehicle has been impounded for 30 days or more because of an impaired driving charge or an offence under the Motor Vehicles Act, it can only be released by a court order.

Generally, if you are the owner of the vehicle and you were not in the vehicle at the time it was impounded, you can apply to the court on the basis that the health, employment or schooling of you (or a person in your care) will suffer if you do not get the vehicle back. If you are the owner and you were in the vehicle when it was impounded, you cannot make an application yourself. Someone who is dependent on the vehicle for transportation can apply, provided that they were not driving the vehicle when it was impounded.

If a vehicle is released from impoundment, the person who was driving it at the time it was impounded is not allowed to drive it during the time it would otherwise have been impounded. Similarly, an owner that was in the car at the time it was impounded is unable to drive it during this period.

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