If you have been charged with sexual assault, you might be wondering – what happens next? This is perfectly understandable, as most people are completely unfamiliar with the court process.
Below we explore the process of a sexual assault charge in more detail, starting from the moment you are arrested. This will help you understand what is likely to happen over the coming months. If you have a Vancouver criminal lawyer acting on your behalf, he/she will be there to guide you through the process.
If you have not already instructed a sexual assault lawyer Vancouver to represent you, please contact us at Mickelson & Whysall without delay. Having a sexual assault charge hanging over your head will be extremely scary, and it is important to have a legal expert to fight your corner.
The process of a sexual assault charge
Most criminal cases follow a very similar process, including sexual assault charges –
- Arrest – the police will arrest you and take you to the police station. You must be offered the chance to contact a lawyer and we highly recommend that you do. A lawyer can then be present during any subsequent police interviews and can explain what happens next in more detail. You may then be released from the station on certain conditions, or you may be held in custody.
- Bail hearing – if the police decide to hold you in custody, there must be a bail hearing as soon as possible, and certainly within 24 hours. A judge or justice of the peace will decide whether you should remain in custody until your trial, or whether you can be released on bail. There may be certain conditions attached to your bail. Your lawyer can represent you at this hearing.
- Initial appearance – next comes your first appearance in court. This is not your trial and nothing will be ‘argued’, as such. This initial appearance is really for administrative purposes. During this hearing, the prosecution will hand over all the evidence they have against you. This is called disclosure. Your lawyer will then request that your case be adjourned so the evidence can be reviewed.
- Disclosure – your criminal defence lawyer will study the disclosure documents before advising how best to proceed. He/she may suggest that you enter a guilty plea, try to negotiate a lesser charge, or plead not-guilty on the basis that you have a good chance of defending the allegations. Ultimately the decision is yours, but we suggest that you take the advice of your legal representative.
- Arraignment hearing – the next step is the arraignment hearing. Again, this is not your trial. It is simply a hearing in which your criminal defence lawyer states how you wish to plea – guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, a date will be set for a sentencing hearing. If you plead not-guilty and you are accused of an indictable offence, you will be asked whether you want your case to be heard in front of a judge, or both a judge and jury.
- Provincial Court trial – if the matter is being pursued as a summary offence (which will only happen with less serious sexual assaults) then the next stage is for your trial to be heard in the Provincial Court.
- Preliminary hearing – but if the matter is being pursued as an indictable offence, then the next stage is a preliminary hearing in the Provincial Court. A judge will decide if there is enough evidence to proceed to a Supreme Court trial. If not, the case will be discharged.
- Supreme Court trial – if a judge does not discharge the case, a date will be set for your Supreme Court trial. Both sides will present evidence and call witnesses, and you will be asked to provide your version of events. Your criminal defence lawyer will be there to argue your case, and may enter plea negotiations on your behalf.
- Verdict and sentencing – the judge or jury will then either find you not-guilty (in which case the matter is over) or guilty. If you are found guilty, the judge must decide how to sentence you. This will depend on the nature of the sexual assault, but may include a jail sentence, a fine and/or being added to the Sex Offender Registry.
- Judicial appeal – if you are found guilty and wish to dispute your conviction, your sentence, or both, you may be able to pursue a judicial appeal.
Why Is It Important To Retain An Experienced Lawyer To Handle A Sexual Assault Case?
There is a certain stigma attached to sexual offences, and this often begins the moment you are charged – even if you have not actually been found guilty of anything. That is why you need to speak to a sexual assault lawyer in Vancouver as soon as possible. A lawyer can advise you of the best way forward, helping you obtain the best possible outcome as quickly and as painlessly as possible.