How Long Will My Criminal Case Take?

How Long Will My Criminal Case Take?

Authored by Ruth Roberts

When someone is charged with a criminal offence, one of the first things they want to know is: When will this be over? The answer to that question is complicated, and depends on a number of factors. But the short (and probably unwelcome) answer is: not for some time.

Before anything significant can be done on a case, the evidence (known as disclosure), needs to be received and reviewed by the accused. If the accused has a lawyer, the lawyer will request that from the Crown. Unrepresented accused will be directed on how to do this. Depending on the nature of the charges, it can take a few weeks before disclosure is available. Once the initial disclosure has been received, there may be more requested by counsel, or provided by the Crown as it becomes available in the course of the investigation. Once the accused has reviewed this, and determined what defences are available, discussions are scheduled with an assistant Crown attorney. Sometimes those discussions include conversations about possible plea bargains. Sometimes they focus on what issues there may be at trial, and how long a trial may take. All of those conversations are reviewed with the client. Only then can the accused make an informed decision about how they want the case to proceed.

If the charges are going to resolve by way of a guilty plea, the matter can then move along quite quickly. However, if there is going to be trial, it will take much longer to resolve. Typically trials are booked months in advance.

Frequently accused people will want to plead guilty, because they know that if they do the matter will be over sooner. However, no ethical lawyer will help a client plead guilty to something the accused denies.

The time between someone being charged and the matter being over is stressful, and can be very hard on the accused and their families. Everyone in the Justice system realizes this, and works very hard to make things move as smoothly as possible, but some delays are inevitable. Criminal cases are very serious, with potentially serious consequences. There really are no shortcuts when it comes to dealing with the presumption of innocence. Evidence has to be carefully and thoroughly reviewed; possible defences have to be explored and discussed; and the client’s instructions have to reflect their true wishes, and be in their best interests. Sometimes all the pieces fall into place quickly, and a just disposition can be arrived at within a couple of weeks. But those cases tend to be the exception to the rule. I advise my clients to be prepared for their case to take three, four or more months. Certainly, the more serious the charge the longer it will probably take. At the outset of the case, I suggest clients reach out for resources such as counselling to assist them in managing the stress and difficulties that inevitably arise when a matter is before the criminal courts.

I also point out that we can do things right, or we can do them fast. Sometimes it is possible to do both at once, and we always strive for excellence. An accused’s right to full answer and defence is of paramount importance. Achieving that can take some time.