What Are My Rights When Charged with a Crime in British Columbia?
If You Are Charged with an Offence...
If you’ve been charged with a criminal offence it is important that you know your rights and that the proper procedures are followed by police and the courts. It can be very emotional and confusing to be charged with a crime and the amount of resources and time needed to defend yourself can seem insurmountable. Fortunately, some of the rules that are in place, which come from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, can help you with this process.
Right to know
You have the right to know what specific criminal offence from the Criminal Code you have been charged with and to be given this information without unreasonable delay. This is so that you have enough time to prepare your defence and also may protect against other problems that could come up while waiting, such as your work being suspended.
Right to silence
This right is discussed in greater detail in another article, but, basically, once you have given your name, date of birth, and address you are not required to say anything else to police. However, they may continue to ask you questions. This rule helps make sure that you are not forced to give information against yourself.
Right to counsel
You must be informed of your right to counsel right away by police and you must be given a chance to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. This rule applies even if you don’t have the money to pay for a lawyer – you should be given the contact information for legal aid. This rule helps make sure that you have someone on your side who understands the process that you’re in and the legal arguments being made and who, if and when the time comes, can make legal arguments in your defence.
If you are arrested there’s a good chance that you will be searched. A strip search can only be done if there is reason for one and if it is done in private by an officer of the same sex as you. This is to protect those who are searched from unreasonable violations of their person and their privacy.
If English isn’t your first language or you are deaf, you have the right to an interpreter during legal proceedings. This protects your ability to properly defend yourself and to understand what is happening in your case.
Innocent until proven guilty
The right to be considered innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principal in our legal system. It means that the Crown prosecutors must prove you are guilty, rather than you having to prove that you are innocent. This is discussed in greater detail in another article.
You are not required to testify in a case against you and, if you choose not to, it may not be held as evidence of your guilt. This protects your right to not be forced to provide evidence against yourself as well as to direct your defence as you see fit.
Right to a trial within reasonable time
You have the right to have your trial take place within a reasonable time of your being charged. What is considered “reasonable” will depend heavily on the specifics of your circumstances, such as the nature of the charges and the investigation, the schedule of your local court, and the time required by the lawyers to prepare the case.
Right not to be denied reasonable bail
You should be able to get bail unless the Crown prosecutor can prove that doing so would be dangerous to public safety or otherwise commit another office. The details of the test can be complicated and are reviewed more fully in another article.
Right to trial by jury
You have the right to a trial by jury if the potential punishment that you face is five or more years. In some cases, for some offences, you will choose whether to have a trial by jury or by judge alone. Your lawyer will help you with this decision.