In my last blog article, I reviewed the process of arrest and release in relation to a client charged with an assault charge and how such criminal process may impact on family law/separation issues.
The next event in the criminal process is the first appearance in criminal court. The first appearance court is exactly as described, a court to handle criminal charges at first instance. The first appearance court is held for two purposes:
– To provide the accused with crown disclosure, and
– To move the criminal charge along, by adjournment, to the next event
The crown disclosure consists of copies of all documents in possession of the police, which relate to the charge, namely:
– A synopsis or summary of the facts surrounding the charge. The synopsis is used by the crown as the information provided to the court in the event that the accused enters a guilty plea.
– Any written statements provided by witnesses or the complainant (alleged victim).
– Copies of the occurrence notes of any peace officers involved in the laying of the criminal charge.
– Copies of any documentary evidence
– A copy of the release the accused’s undertaking and criminal information (charge) form
– A crown screening form sets out the crown’s sentencing position in the event that the accused enters a guilty plea either before or after a trial. The crown screening form is not necessarily the final sentencing position the crown may take on a plea as the crown has not yet had the benefit of any plea negotiations or defense evidence.
The crown disclosure brief is prepared shortly before the first appearance court and is physically provided to the accused and/or his counsel at the first appearance court date.
The police force laying the charge has the responsibility of organizing the crown disclosure brief. Given the timing of the preparation of the brief, it is, for the most part, difficult to have substantive resolution discussions with the crown attorney in relation to the charge until after the first appearance court.
Most criminal charges are, at the first appearance court stage, adjourned to allow the accused and his counsel to review the crown brief for accuracy and for the purposes of defense counsel providing the accused with an opinion on possible defenses to the charge.
Preliminary resolution discussions can, however, take place at the first appearance court in that there is a resolution crown present who can review the charge with defense counsel. In the event that a release condition needs to be varied (ie: allowing the accused contact with the complainant through his or her lawyer for the purpose of arranging access to the children) the release variations can be negotiated with the resolution crown at the first appearance court. If such negotiations are successful, a release consent variation form is completed detailing the variation to the release document. The form is signed by both the accused and the crown and the release variation is then spoken to in the first appearance court.
Once the above noted issues have been addressed in first appearance court, the charge is normally adjourned for three weeks to one month to another first appearance/adjournment court. During that time, arrangements are made for a crown resolution meeting via telephone. The purpose of the crown resolution meeting is to attempt, if possible, to resolve the charge either by a guilty plea to the charge, a lesser charge or some alternative consequence, with the consent and support of the crown by way of either a joint sentence submission or peace bond initiative as described below.
In the event that, after review of the crown brief, the accused is not prepared to explore a resolution to the charges, the focus of the crown resolution meeting is to address trial procedural matters in order to determine the length of the trial.
The next blog article will deal with the process of plea bargaining the assault trial.