Okay, so you know the basic rules about for attending a first court date, but what actually happens when you get there? Do you have to enter your plea of guilty or not guilty right away? Most of my clients have no clue about what actually happens at a first court date, but this blog should give you a lay of the land.
The first thing the magistrate or the judge will ask you is whether or not you would like a lawyer. If you have hired a lawyer already, the lawyer should be attending the court date with you or sending a student to address the court. Sometimes, lawyers email the Crown attorney or the Crown attorney's assistant so that they know what the plan is for the first court date. If you haven't hired a lawyer already, the court will gladly give you time to do that. If you need to apply for legal aid, you can apply with legal aid directly or you can visit the lawyer who you want to assist you. Most lawyers can complete a legal aid application with you at their office. I know that I do this all the time.
The court will want to know if you want to proceed in either English or in French. Pick the language you feel most comfortable with because ALL of the legal proceedings must be done in the language selected. If you require an interpreter, you can request one as well but the court wants to know if the proceedings should be in English or French.
The Crown attorney or the Crown attorney's assistant will likely have disclosure to provide to you. Usually, it is a stack of 20-30 pages of materials. Disclosure is all the evidence the Crown attorney intends to rely upon to prove the case against you. Disclosure can include police narratives, police notes, written or video statements from complainants and witnesses, DVD video surveillance, forensic evidence like fingerprints or DNA, medical reports, expert reports, and the list goes on. You typically only received one copy of the disclosure, so it is important you keep it safe because your lawyer will want to review it with you at your first meeting.
Finally, the charges will be remanded to a new court date. What that means is, you will return to court in a few weeks to provide some updates.
If you would like to, you are able to enter a guilty plea and be sentenced on your first court date. However, it is recommended that you take the time to seek some legal advice before you make any decision. I would never recommend entering a guilty plea on your first court date.
The court will typically give you 2 to 3 months to complete the legal aid application process or to properly retain a lawyer. At a certain point, the court may mark your matter quote "for plea." If that happens, then you must confirm a date for a guilty plea and sentencing or a date for a hearing, such as a trial or preliminary hearing.
I hope this has been helpful to describe how a first court appearance works in Manitoba when you've been charged with a criminal offence.
About the author
Michael Dyck is a criminal lawyer at Tom Rees and Company. He represents clients from Winnipeg, Steinbach, and rural Manitoba. He has extensive experience helping people charged with criminal offences and focuses on building legal strategy with clients. To read more of his articles, please visit TomRees.ca.