Guide To Representing Yourself In Court
(Provincial and Adult Criminal Court)
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This is an easy guide to help you defend yourself in court. There are also some pointers on how to find a lawyer if that’s what you decide to do.
This is just a guide. If you’re unsure of something, get legal advice from a qualified lawyer. This guide is not legal advice and Dahlem Criminal Defence does not guarantee that the information in this guide applies to your situation. The law is always changing. If you find this guide too hard to follow, please contact Dahlem Criminal Defence for advice.
Lawyers don’t just spew out facts and legal references. They use their education and experience to tell you what to do in your situation to get the best results. Only lawyers can offer this type of specialised advice.
The law gives you two options if you are charged with a crime:
- To find a lawyer for your case.
- To stand up for yourself in court and represent yourself.
This guide sets out generally what will happen during your criminal court case. Not all criminal matters are the same and some of it may not apply. There also might be things that happen that are not in this guide. It is impossible to predict everything. It will also help you prepare for court if you don’t have a lawyer.
If you act for yourself, you must follow the law. Without a lawyer, you are responsible for representing yourself. The prosecutor can’t help you and neither can the judge. This includes following procedure and evidence laws. This process can be hard to understand. If you're found guilty, the results can be harsh.
How to Get a Lawyer
The best time to get a lawyer is before your court date. Lawyers usually have a lot of work and need time to get everything ready for a case. If your lawyer is not free on your court date, they need time to ask to move the case to another date.
If you don’t have a lawyer by the time your case goes before the judge, you may not be allowed to get another court date to get a lawyer. You may also need to defend your case. So, it’s important to think about getting a lawyer, usually the sooner the better.
Search the internet for websites and ads. Most lawyers will have comprehensive websites like this one. You can also ask people to recommend a lawyer. Dahlem criminal defence is available for consultation online at the click of a button.
Lawyer Referral 1-800-661-1095 (toll-free)
The Law Society of Alberta has a Lawyer Referral Service. You can follow these steps to get lawyers referred to you:
- Call the number.
- The Law Referral will give you the contact details of about three lawyers.
- Get an appointment with one or all three lawyers.
- Ensure they know you got their contacts from the Law Referral.
- 30 minutes of the meeting is free.
Before choosing which lawyer is best for you, have a chat about your legal position, your different options, and fees.
Legal Aid Alberta 1-866-845-3425 (toll-free)
If you can’t find a cheap private lawyer, you can ask Legal Aid if you qualify for a legal aid lawyer. Ask the Crown Prosecutor (the government lawyer) if they’ll be requesting a jail sentence. You can then inform Legal Aid.
If Legal Aid cannot help you and a private lawyer is too costly, the judge might select a lawyer for you. This only happens if your charges are serious. Ask Legal Aid, or for more information, see this link: https://www.legalaid.ab.ca/Rowbotham/Pages/
At the end of this guide, there’s a list of other services that may help you.
Preparing For Trial
Police investigate the crime before the case goes to court. They give the Crown Prosecutor (lawyer acting for the government) everything they have found, which may include:
- Objects (weapons, drugs, etc.)
- Photographs (crime scene, damaged property, etc.)
- Certificates (regarding any testing that has taken place)
These documents are called “disclosure material.” The legal officer must give you a copy of these documents. If these documents have not been sent to you, make sure you ask for them as soon as possible. It is also essential to see what is missing from the disclosure. It is common for witness statements, for example, to not be included. It is up to you to follow up with disclosure requests to the Crown Prosecutor if something is missing.
Once you have a copy, look at it carefully, and bring it to your trial. A list of Crown Prosecutors’ offices and phone numbers will be made available at the end of this booklet. This also applies to you if you’ve been charged with a drug offence.
At the end of this guide there’s a list of relevant offices and phone numbers
Witnesses: What You Should Know
A witness is anyone who has seen, heard, or done something relevant to your case. Witnesses provide evidence of what happened. Hearing the evidence of witnesses is the whole point of a trial. The judge will then evaluate the evidence of witnesses to come to a decision on guilt or innocence. — strike the next sentence. They help a Judge in deciding your innocence.
It is up to you to make sure that your witness shows up to court. If you’re unsure whether they will show up, you can go to the Clerk of the Court and ask for a subpoena (sub-pee-nah). A subpoena orders your witnesses to come to court.
The Clerk of the Court can also explain the process to you. You typically need 3 weeks’ notice to deliver the subpoena, which may cost a delivery fee. Subpoenas are important if you want a better chance your witness shows up to your trial. You may have to continue the trial without them if they don't.
The Time and Place of the Trial
The Court and the time of your first appearance will be on the documents you were given when you were arrested. This notice may be any of the following:
- Written notice for trial;
- Appearance notice
Trials are booked in court with the Crown prosecutors schedule and your schedule and court schedule to make sure that everyone is available and there is free time. Make sure you bring the notice and ask the Court staff to help you if you’re unsure.
Asking for More Time (Adjournment)
If you need more time, you can ask for your case to be moved to another date. Talk to the legal officer in charge of your case and the Judge. You will need to give good reasons for the delay. The Judge will decide whether to allow the extension. The judge is more likely to grant this if you’ve given enough notice.
How To Change Your Statement of Guilt (Plea)
During the trial, you can ask the Judge if you want to plead guilty. If you decide to admit guilt before the trial date, contact the government lawyer (Crown Prosecutor) as soon as possible so they can cancel the witnesses they had planned.
Special Needs or Disabilities
You should contact the Court and chat with them about any special needs or disabilities you or your witnesses will need help with.
French As Your Home Language
If your home language is French, you can have your trial in French, but tell the Court this before the trial so that the Court can prepare.
Interpreters are available for anyone who doesn’t understand English. You will need to contact the Court to get information on court interpreters.
For locations and to contact the Alberta Provincial Courts, call 310 0000 or go to https://albertacourts.ca/provincial-court/locations-sittings
Important Legal Terms
Presumption of Innocence
This means you are seen to be innocent until found guilty. The Crown Prosecutor must prove your guilt. The presumption of innocence means you don’t need to prove your guilt at trial.
Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The guilt of a person accused of a crime must be “proven beyond a reasonable doubt”. This is a very high level of proof. It isn’t maybe guilty, or probably guilty, it means that is very close to certainty that you are guilty.
Burden of Proof
The Burden of Proof means that the Crown Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you have committed the crime and are guilty. The burden of proof is on the Crown Prosecutor and no one else. You don’t have to prove anything.
How Your Offence is Broken Down
Charges need to be proved. Every charge has its specific requirements that need to be met. These requirements are called “essential elements of the offence.” These parts include:
- Whether the offence took place
- Deciding who the victim is, if any
- Looking at whether the offence was planned
- Deciding if it was you who committed the crime
- In some cases, the time, date, and place of the crime
The requirements are different for each crime. What needs to be proved depends on the facts of your case. If you are unsure about these parts of an offence or what the Crown Prosecutor needs to prove, you can ask the Judge.
Right to Remain Silent
During the trial, the Judge will ask if you or someone wants to testify. You can refuse. This is known as your “right to remain silent” or your “right against self-incrimination.”
During the trial, you can say one of the following:
- The Crown Prosecutor has not proved one of the essential parts of the case beyond a reasonable doubt; or
- The evidence led by the Crown Prosecutor provides you with a defence.
If the Judge agrees with you, he will throw out the case.
If you would like to see more explanation of legal terms, you can also see the Frequently Asked Questions page on Legal Terms.
Things Used in Trial: Evidence
Evidence is anything relevant to your case. The Judge uses these to decide guilt. A witness must take an oath or affirmation that he is telling the truth before giving evidence. The Clerk of Court helps with the oath or affirmation.
Objects can also be evidence, like photographs or test results. If either party asks for it to be made an “exhibit,” those things are put into evidence. The Judge will ask if both parties agree to include the exhibit.
The Judge will make his decision using the laws of evidence. For example, you cannot testify that someone else told you that something happened. This is known as “hearsay” and is usually not allowed, although there are exceptions.
Either you or the Crown Prosecutor can stand up in court and ask that specific evidence should not be allowed.
Clearing Yourself of Guilt (Defences)
A defence clears you of any guilt. For example, you may be charged with assault, but you can avoid guilt if you defend yourself (self-defence). You usually don’t need to prove a defence.
The Crown Prosecutor needs to prove the below factors:
- All the essential parts of the crime have been met beyond a reasonable doubt; and
- The accused does not have a defence.
Although, there are times when you must prove a defence.
What to Take to Court
You must carry all disclosure materials (information the court needs to know). A pen and paper are useful for taking notes during the trial.
Behaviour in Court
A trial is a formal occasion. Make sure that you dress respectfully.
Remember the following before walking into court:
- Remove your hat.
- Switch off your phone.
- Don’t eat or drink.
- The Judge will ensure that everyone involved acts appropriately.
- Wait for the Judge’s Instructions.
- Don’t speak when someone else is speaking.
- When you speak, stand and make sure that everyone can hear you.
You will be addressed by name (e.g., Mr. Anderson) or as “the accused.”
Officers of the Court
There are 3 important officers of the court. Read more about them below
- The Judge
- They are responsible for making sure that a trial is fair.
- They don’t take sides
- Call the Judge of the Provincial Court “Your Honour.”
- Usually, the Judge is unaware of anything to do with you or your matter. The only thing the Judge knows is that you are accused of an offence or offences.
- These charges are listed on a document named “Information.” With Traffic offences the document is called a “Violation Ticket”. These documents are given to you in your disclosure documents.
- The Crown Prosecutor
- Is the lawyer for the state.
- You can call them by name (e.g., Mr. Smith).
- They cannot help you (since they are trying to prove your guilt). That’s why the law says they have a conflict of interest with the Accused.
- The Court Clerk
- They sit in front of the Judge.
- Their job is to help the Judge.
- They cannot advise you but can help you understand the process.
The Judge will call you to the front of the courtroom and have you sit at the table next to the Crown Prosecutor’s table. After the Judge has confirmed that everyone is there and ready to begin, the trial will start.
Excluding All Witnesses
If either side has more than one witness (other than you), the Judge can order that all witnesses are excluded. This means that witnesses will go outside while other witnesses testify so that other testimonies do not influence anyone. After a witness testifies, they can choose to stay or leave the courtroom.
During this stage, the Crown Prosecutor questions the witness.
Questions must be:
- Open-ended: They cannot be responded to with just a “yes” or “no.”
- Non-leading: A leading question suggests its own response.
For example: “Mr. Brown, describe what happened at your office on the night of March 1st, 2021.”
At this stage, you can ask the witness leading questions such as “Mr. Brown, isn't it true that you were drunk on the night of March 1st, 2021?”
After the Crown Prosecutor Closes its Case
Once the Crown Prosecutor’s witnesses have testified and all exhibits have been handed in, their case is closed.
The Judge will then ask you if you or any other witness wishes to testify. You don’t have to testify. If you choose to testify, tell the Judge about all the essential case details. Next, the Judge might question you, and the Crown Prosecutor cross-examines you after that.
If you choose to testify and already have a criminal record, you might have to answer questions about it. If you don’t testify, the Crown can only bring up your record if you are found guilty.
After cross-examination, you can return to your seat. You can then question any witnesses that you might have. Finally, they will be cross-examined by the Crown.
Final Argument (Submissions)
Once both sides have given evidence, the Judge will allow you and the Crown Prosecutor to explain why you should or shouldn’t be found guilty.
The judge looks at the below before deciding if you are guilty:
- Proof (evidence)
- Final Arguments
- What the law says
Sometimes, the Judge will make his ruling on your guilt (give Judgment) on another day (he will adjourn court).
The Possible Outcomes of Judgment (Sentencing)
- If you are guilty - the Judge will decide on a suitable punishment for the offence.
- If you are found not guilty - you are free to leave.
Sentencing is the punishment the Judge gives you after you have been found guilty. The Judge may move sentencing to another day (adjourn) to collect more information. Click the link for more information on sentencing and the types of sentences.
A pre-sentence report is a report from a probation officer. He will interview you, your family and friends, and your boss. This helps to find out about your history and to decide what kind of sentence to give you. The judge will look at your previous offences, if any.
Before you get sentenced, the Judge will ask for your comments.
The Judge will want to know about the following:
- Your age
- Your Job
- Your education
- Whether you are married
- If you have any dependants
You have the right to tell the Judge anything that will make them give you a less harsh sentence.
- Jail: If you get a jail sentence, a sheriff will take you to jail.
Sheriffs are officers who carry out court orders, warrants, and writs. This includes taking part in removing and selling property. They also do courtroom and additional related functions.
If the sentence is 90 days or below, you may ask the Judge if you can stay in jail for just the weekends (intermittent sentence).
- Probation: This is when you are monitored by a probation officer for good behaviour. To avoid jail, you cannot commit any more offences during this time.
- Fine: If you must pay a sum of money, the Judge will ask you how long it will take for you to pay.
The following special orders can also be made:
- Victim Surcharge Orders - an extra fine the Judge can call for as part of your sentence.
- Order for DNA
- Driving Ban
- Weapon Ban
The Crown Prosecutor may ask for further orders, so listen carefully to their comments. Make sure you get a copy of a sentence order from the Clerk. Ask the Judge if you are unsure about anything about the sentence. If the case is over, you can ask the Court Clerk.
Victim Impact Statement
A Victim Impact Statement sets out the physical or emotional hurt, damage to property, or financial loss the victim experienced because of the offence. The Judge will take this into account. This gives the victim a chance to take part in the trial. They can describe the effects of the offence on them and their families.
You have the right to appeal if you believe the Judge made a mistake in applying the law to the facts. If your appeal is successful, the ruling can be changed or reversed. Sometimes a new trial will be ordered. You must appeal within the legal timeframe.
LAW SOCIETY OF ALBERTA LAWYER REFERRAL 1-800-661-1095 (toll free)
Call the Law Society and let them know you need a criminal lawyer. They will give you the details of one to three lawyers working in your area. After that, you can meet with one, two, or all three lawyers. Don’t forget to say you got their details from Lawyer Referral. You won’t be charged for the first 30 minutes of the meeting. You can then discuss your legal situation, look at different options, and ask about what and how they charge before choosing them as your lawyer.
LEGAL AID 1-866-845-3425 (toll-free)
If you can’t find a cheap lawyer, consider contacting Legal Aid Alberta. They will let you know if you meet the requirements for a legal aid lawyer. Ask the Crown Prosecutor if the Crown will be asking for a jail sentence and inform Legal Aid.
RESOLUTION SERVICES www.rcas.alberta.ca
Resolution Services help with information needed for civil and criminal matters. An information Coordinator will walk you through Alberta's court processes. You can get this service face to face or by telephone by calling the Resolution and Court Administration Services contact centre on 1-855-738-4747
You can call Dial-a-Law to listen to pre-recorded tapes that have general legal information. They also have information about criminal matters. Written versions of the tapes can also be posted to you if you ask.
ALBERTA LAW LIBRARIES www.lawlibrary.ab.ca
Courthouse libraries’ staff can show you textbooks and court cases that could help you understand the law and get ready for your case.
ELIZABETH FRY SOCIETIES
Edmonton - 780-422-1175 Calgary - 403-294-0737
Elizabeth Fry societies work with and represent women in the justice system, specifically women at odds with the law. The Edmonton and Calgary Elizabeth Fry societies have court workers who give information to men and women on court processes, plea choices, and the way forward. They also inform you of duty counsel and other community and legal help. Duty Counsel are lawyers arranged by Legal Aid who can help you with your court matter.
NATIVE COUNSELLING SERVICES OF ALBERTA
Edmonton 780-451-4002 Calgary 403-237-7850
Other locations: see Staff Directory at http://www.ncsa.ca/.
Their Native Courtworker Program gives Aboriginal people information about the following:
- Court processes.
- Their legal rights and responsibilities.
- Advocacy (To stand up for and help a person or problem).
- Guidance and direction with Legal Aid and other services.
- Court workers also may go to court with you.
Native Counselling helps ensure Native people get treated fairly and equally in the justice system.
STUDENT LEGAL SERVICES OF EDMONTON
Student Legal Services of Edmonton can share legal information and help people who don’t earn much in Provincial Court with many criminal offences, including:
- Not complying with a probation order.
- Some driving offences.
- Common assault.
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Additional offences.
Their open hours might be different during the school term.
STUDENT LEGAL ASSISTANCE SOCIETY (CALGARY)
Student Legal Assistance is a group of law students from the University of Calgary. They give legal help and representation in Provincial Court all year. They help people charged with minor criminal offences when they can’t pay for legal services. If Student Legal Assistance takes on your matter, you must pay a $30 fee.
LEGAL CLINICS IN ALBERTA
Non-profit legal clinics can give free legal help to working-class people who have legal problems but do not meet the requirements for Legal Aid.
The below clinics can also help you in criminal law matters:
- Calgary Legal Guidance
- Lethbridge Legal Guidance
- Grande Prairie Legal Guidance
- Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic
Offices of the Crown Prosecutor
Calgary Crown Prosecutors Office
600 Centrium Place 332 – 6 Avenue, SW Calgary, AB T2P 0B2
Fax: 403-297-4311 JSG-ACPS.CalgaryProsecutions@gov.ab.ca
Grande Praire Regional Crown Office
3601, Provincial Building 10320 - 99th Street Grande Prairie, AB T8V 6J4
Fax: 780-538-5500 JSG-ACPS.GrandePrairie@gov.ab.ca
Hinton Regional Crown Office
2nd Floor, Mount Miette Building 201 Pembina Avenue Hinton, AB T7V 2B2
Fax: 780-865-8328 HintonCrown@gov.ab.ca
Lethbridge Regional Crown Office
1100 Melcor Centre 400 – 4th Avenue South Lethbridge, AB T1J 4E1
Fax: 403-381-5760 JSG-ACPS.Lethbridge@gov.ab.ca
Medicine Hat Regional Crown Office
301 Credit Union Building 556 – 4th Street, SE Medicine Hat, AB T1A 0K8
Fax: 403-529-3121 email@example.com
Peace River Regional Crown Office
201 Provincial Building 9621 – 96 Avenue P.O. Box 6360 STN MAIN Peace River, AB T8S 1S3
Fax: 780-624-6312 firstname.lastname@example.org
Red Deer Regional Crown Office
601 Provincial Building 4920 – 51st Street Red Deer, AB T4N 6K8
Fax: 403-340-7193 email@example.com
Slave Lake Regional Crown Office
P.O. Box 69 Stn Main Suite #101, 101 - 3 Street SW Slave Lake, AB,T0G 2A0
Telephone: (780) 849-7190
Fax: (780) 849-7117 firstname.lastname@example.org
St.Paul Regional Crown Office
4th Floor, Provincial Building 5025 – 49th Avenue PO Box 115 St. Paul, AB T0A 3A4
Fax: 780-645-6363 email@example.com
Wetaskiwin Regional Crown Office
2nd Floor, Provincial Building 5201 – 50th Avenue Wetaskiwin, AB T9A 0S7
Fax: 780-361-1468 firstname.lastname@example.org
FEDERAL CROWN PROSECUTOR
(CHARGES ON DRUGS AND CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES)
Chief Federal Prosecutor
Public Prosecution Service of Canada
Alberta Regional Office (Edmonton)
700 EPCOR Tower 10423 – 101st Street
Edmonton, Alberta T5H 0E7
Public Prosecution Service of Canada
900, 700 – 6th Ave SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 0T8
To find information about Federal Crown Prosecutors in your area, contact one of the above Regional Offices to help you.