Monthly Archives: August 2015

Why should I retain my own lawyer?

In courts across Ontario, Duty Counsel help unrepresented accused everyday. Duty Counsel are lawyers. Some work exclusively for Legal Aid, while others are private lawyers working on a contractual basis with Legal Aid Ontario.

If Duty Counsel represent people who do not have a lawyer, why should I retain my own lawyer?

First, not everyone is financially eligible for duty counsel services. Generally, duty counsel does not assist with pretrials, preliminary hearings, trials or superior court matters.

Second, Duty Counsel meet with a large number of accused on a regular basis. You may have to wait long periods of time before you speak with a Duty Counsel on your day in court, and you may not get the chance to tell them everything about your case. In addition, Duty Counsel does not keep extensive files, and you will have to re-explain your situation may times, starting over each time you get to court. Finally, Duty Counsel typically does not have the chance to review all the disclosure with you: they review the 1-2 page charge summary and give you an opinion based on that information, not on the entirety of the Crown’s file.

Hiring a private counsel is different: you hire a lawyer based on her experience and expertise. You often choose a lawyer based on her personality and the trust you establish while consulting with her, and reviewing her profile. Private counsel gets to know you and your personal situation. Your lawyer will review your complete file. Your counsel can review the file and provide you with advise on a trial, pretrial, preliminary hearing or plea of guilty.

Often, duty counsel will tell clients that complicated matters should be dealt with by private counsel, who can provide sufficient time, research and continuity for the most advantageous results.

What is your success rate?

Before retaining the services of one lawyer versus another, it’s important to know how well they have done in other cases.

But what exactly is a successful case?

The most common type of success is when the judge enters an acquittal or when the charge is withdrawn. While these are the best possible outcomes, they can be the most difficult and time consuming. Going to trial takes months, if not years. The evidence must be in favour of the defence, or there is an clear breach of Charter rights. Often, the evidence is not automatically in favour of the defence, it takes a skilled trial lawyer to find inconsistencies, to search deep beneath the surface of the evidence and come up with issues of reliability of the witnesses or police notes. Sometimes, however, evidence such as the police notes, witness statements and video surveillance are not in favour of the defence, and an acquittal is not possible.

In those cases, the criminal lawyer adapts and tries to negotiate a guilty plea to a lesser offence. These types of negotiations are beneficial for numerous aspects: a lesser penalty and lesser charges indicated on a criminal record. It can be the difference between having a criminal record for an aggravated assault versus only an assault.

Criminal defence lawyers must, more often than not, focus on the sentencing component of the conviction. This becomes more of a damage control type of function. Depending on the charge and the circumstances of the offence, there may be sentencing alternatives that range from diversion programs, to discharges, to fines, and even probation.

Sometimes, it may become probable that the accused will go to jail for a period of time. In these types of cases, the criminal lawyer becomes successful when they have effectively convinced a judge that the accused should serve a lesser amount of time in custody.

While defence lawyers strive for an acquittal or withdrawal, in some cases such an outcome is not possible. A successful day before the courts does not always mean an acquittal – it may mean a plea of guilt to a lesser offence, or a plea of guilt where the accused receives a lesser penalty.

Celine Dostaler strives to reach successful results in all her cases. Speak to her today to discuss your case.