If you have been arrested for committing a serious offence, you are immediately going to need a criminal lawyer to advise you, and should the case come to court, a team to defend you. Your lawyer should be able to tell you into what category of offence or crime your act falls.
Canadas criminal law is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, but the provincial governments have the power to enforce and prosecute according to the law, through their law-enforcement agencies, namely the police.
Canadas penal code divides offences into three types:
Summary conviction offences:
These include most minor infractions that are usually punishable by a fine of up to $5000 and / or six months jail-time. The statute of limitations is six months for a summary charge unless an actual crime has been committed. The statute of limitations is set out individually for each type of crime. The police do not need an arrest warrant for this type of offence and the accused does not have to submit his or her fingerprints. The accused is automatically pardoned after three years if no further offence is committed.
These are the very serious offences, such as murder, treason, robbery, assault, burglary, rape, arson and larceny.
With the exception of treason which holds a statute of limitations of three years, there is no limitation for serious crimes. The police need an arrest warrant for this kind of offence, and the accused is required to submit finger prints.
These are undecided offences. This type of offence can fall into either category of summary or indictable depending upon the circumstances and the consequences of the offence. The prosecution has yet to come to a decision as to whether the case is to be tried as a summary offence or an indictable offence. Many offences fall into this category. An example of an uncertain offence is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
DUI, or impaired driving as it is called in Canada is normally a summary conviction offence. Penalties of fines and restricting driving, or revoking drivers licenses are more likely to be imposed rather than jail sentences. In Ontario, however, repeated offences can carry jail-time. If the impaired driver is involved in an accident, the charge might become a hybrid offence, and if lives are lost, an indictable offence.
When you are about to be indicted, your criminal lawyer will have to decide a strategy to defend you. He or she will try to find extenuating circumstances that may produce leniency in your sentencing or even get you acquitted. These include duress, intoxication, automatism, or necessity. Automatism will probably require psychiatric evaluation, and intoxication is only a factor in certain crimes. Necessity can include such things as self defence.
The law is very complicated, and that is why it is vital to get a criminal lawyer who is experienced and qualified to defend you in the type of charge you are facing.