A criminal conviction could put your reputation, your finances and even your freedom at stake. In such stressful and uncertain times, it’s important to remember that you have the right to defend yourself and that you are entitled to have a defence lawyer by your side every step of the way.
In Alberta and throughout Canada, the criminal procedure involves many steps: the initial arrest and subsequent bail/release, charges laid/filed with the court, the first court appearance, subsequent court appearances, entering a plea, and if necessary, trial and sentencing. Perhaps the most crucial step in the early stages of facing a criminal charge is your first court appearance. It is here that you will learn a lot of information about the charges laid including what punishment the Crown might seek if you plead guilty. Moreover, your first appearance in court is also a critical opportunity to request the evidence the Crown holds against you—this is known as invoking your right to disclosure.
What are my rights to disclosure?
If you are accused of a crime in Canada, you have a legal right to know not only the charges you face but also the case and evidence the prosecution plans to present against you. In fact, you are entitled to whatever evidence the Crown holds against you whether they plan to use it in court or not.
The law states,
An accused is entitled, after he has been ordered to stand trial or at his trial,
- (a)to inspect without charge the indictment, his own statement, the evidence and the exhibits, if any; and
- (b)to receive, on payment of a reasonable fee determined in accordance with a tariff of fees fixed or approved by the Attorney General of the province, a copy
- (i)of the evidence,
- (ii)of his own statement, if any, and
- (iii)of the indictment;
(Source: Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s 603)
This evidence will come to you as a set of documents (and often other media) known as the disclosure package.
How do I obtain my disclosure package?
While you are, indeed, legally entitled to this information, you must formally request the disclosure package from the Crown’s office in order to ensure you receive it. Depending on the nature of the offence in question, you’ll contact the appropriate prosecutor’s office: the federal Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) handles drug offences and other crimes under federal jurisdiction, while most other offences in Edmonton and throughout the province are under the jurisdiction of the Alberta Provincial Crown Prosecutors Office.
It could take several weeks, and sometimes even months, for the appropriate Crown Prosecutor’s office to prepare your disclosure package. Therefore, requesting it as early as possible—by your first court appearance—is essential.
What is included in the disclosure package?
Generally speaking, the Crown, along with police, are obliged to disclose “all materials [and] information that is in its possession or control that is not clearly irrelevant, regardless of if the evidence is to be called at trial or is inculpatory or exculpatory” once you invoke your right to disclosure. This includes any evidence, notes and other records the police have compiled over the course of their investigation and provided to the Crown Prosecutor.
Any of the following specific types of documents and other items may be included in your disclosure package:
- A description of the charges laid against you
- A narrative summary of the evidence that includes a list of witnesses (known as the Crown Brief or Crown Sheet)
- Any police notes taken by officers during their investigation
- Testimony from any witnesses of the offence (taken in writing and recorded on audio and/or video)
- Your criminal record, along with any court orders concerning you
- Expert testimony/reports
- Certified results of any tests performed (such as a breathalyzer, drug screening or firearms tests)
- Medical records if any victims suffered an injury
- Claims for restitution if any property was damaged or lost
- Crime scene photographs or video footage, if applicable
- Any applicable audio recordings and/or transcriptions from 911 dispatch, police communication or ambulance transmissions
- Police action reports (such as for use of force or use of pepper spray)
- Any other relevant details about the circumstances of your arrest, the scene of the incident (when applicable) and police procedure regarding the crime
What information is not included in a disclosure package?
Some items may be exempt from your right to the disclosure; however, the Crown must prove that at least one of the following conditions is met for each document they do not disclose:
- It is irrelevant – An item is only relevant if the Crown Prosecutor could potentially use it in the case against you (even if they choose not to).
- It is not in the Crown’s control – Information that is considered third-party evidence or that police or the Crown has not collected.
- It is privileged information – It reveals confidential police sources or investigative techniques, breaches solicitor-client privilege or other privacy, etc.
Do I need a lawyer?
If you are charged with a crime, there is no more important tool to use toward your defence than the disclosure package. Likewise, there is no more important resource than a qualified and trustworthy lawyer. Not only does your lawyer help obtain full disclosure in a timely manner; they also review the details provided and analyze the Crown’s case against you, and of course, craft the most effective defence possible based on the information available. Moreover, a skilled criminal defence lawyer can recognize if key items are missing from your disclosure package and help you obtain further evidence from third parties to help support your strategy.
Secure experienced counsel when criminal charges have been laid against you
Having successfully defended tens of thousands of clients facing charges for a criminal offence, the compassionate lawyers of Chadi & Company are well prepared to work tirelessly to help you reach the best outcome in your case. To learn more about how we help you at every stage of criminal procedure—including obtaining your crucial disclosure package—contact us today online or call (780) 429-2300 to schedule a consultation.