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As a whole, the Canadian justice system is very fair. The accused enjoy the right to be present and be heard in court, the right to remain silent, and the right to representation by legal counsel. That last right is one of the most important rights of all. This is because while the justice system is ultimately fair, it is by its very nature legalistic. This legalistic and formalistic nature makes it very difficult for unrepresented parties to take full advantage of the rights afforded to criminal defendants under the Canadian system. All criminal defendants who are able to do so should hire a criminal defense attorney to assist in representation because not doing so can result in criminal defendants forfeiting their rights and their freedoms.
Legal Aid Attorney Qualifications in Canada
The Canadian justice system recognizes a universal right to attorney representation in criminal cases. As a result, certain criminal defendants are entitled to legal counsel free of charge from legal aid counsel. If you qualify for legal aid counsel, you should probably take advantage of that resource; however, not everyone will qualify for free legal aid. As a general rule, free legal counsel is only guaranteed to those who are both financially indigent and facing jail time if they are convicted. Those earning a substantial income are expected to hire their own attorneys; however, many choose to continue their case unrepresented by an attorney. This is often a mistake.
Why Unrepresented Parties Are Less Successful in Court
Statistics generally show that unrepresented parties in criminal cases are very unlikely to succeed in court or on appeal. The reality is that most criminal defense attorneys are experienced trial lawyers who understand courtroom procedure, and unrepresented parties often lack the basic knowledge necessary to carry their case through the court system successfully. The statistics demonstrate that unrepresented parties who are guilty generally receive higher sentencing than unrepresented parties. Similarly, many criminal defendants who are actually innocent will often be found guilty due to an inability to present an adequate defense in court.
Additionally, unrepresented parties are often unable to negotiate a favorable plea arrangement with crown counsel because unrepresented parties lack the necessary relationship and negotiating skills to secure a deal with the prosecution. This unfortunate reality often prevents the early dismissal of fruitless charges.
Benefits a Criminal Attorney Can Offer
Why are criminal defense attorneys more successful in defending cases than unrepresented litigants? The answer is two-fold. First, criminal defense attorneys have both knowledge of the legal system and relationships with crown counsel and judges. Knowledge of the legal system is critical to arguing a case effectively, suppressing negative evidence, and understanding the types of valid criminal defenses available to clients. Similarly, a criminal defense attorney’s relationships with crown counsel and the judge are important to help predict what tactics will be successful and which will fail.
Second, criminal defense attorneys often have ready access to a wealth of resources that are critical to establishing an effective defense. From a legal perspective, a criminal defense attorney will have easy access to a case law library and legal materials that can help resolve complex legal issues with a case. From a practical perspective, a criminal defense attorney will have a support infrastructure in his or her office and access to private investigators that can help build a winning case.
An Attorney Is Worth the Cost
Many people who do not hire criminal defense attorneys make their decision for financial reasons. However, it is a longstanding myth that criminal defense attorneys are not affordable for most of the public. In fact, the opposite is true. A brief survey of lawyer pay will reveal that different legal fields charge higher hourly rates than other legal fields. For example, the highest paid attorneys generally include anti-trust lawyers and transactional attorneys working with major corporations. In contrast, criminal defense attorneys generally charge very modest rates and can be very affordable.
Additionally, the cost of a criminal defense attorney needs to be weighed against the cost of criminal jail sentencing or fines. As discussed above, the chances of even innocent criminal defendants winning a case are lower when they represent themselves. Choosing to not hire an attorney is taking a gamble against possible incarceration or hefty fines. While hiring an attorney definitely does not guarantee success in court, it can greatly increase the chances of either an acquittal or a more favorable plea deal.
It Is Better to Hire an Attorney Sooner Rather than Later
Unfortunately, criminal law is largely a game of procedure, and the criminal statutes in Canada provide many opportunities for criminal defendants to resolve their cases early on. However, delaying the hiring of an attorney can cause criminal defendants to miss opportunities to resolve their claims early.
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