Slightly lesser known than the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) are the five stages of a criminal case, and as you will see, they share some remarkable similarities.
There is usually a trigger event that leads to being charged by the police – a driving infraction, an argument, a confrontation, a misdeed at work or home, something that may involve other people, money, substances.
The incident may have occurred exactly as the police and witnesses say it did, or maybe it did not occur at all and mistakes have been made, or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
At this stage, the police will usually release you from the scene or from the police station with paperwork that tells you what you are charged with and when you have to attend your first court date, usually a month or two later. For more serious allegations, you may be held in custody and taken to court for a bail hearing.
You may be in denial at this point, but it is something you have to face.
2. Hiring a Lawyer
Soon after being charged, the next step is to retain a lawyer. This will undoubtedly lead to some anger on your part!
However, it is vital to ensure you have a well qualified representative. In the first several weeks, you need to know how this court process works, what your options are and how the timeline will unfold. Your lawyer should explain things in simple language, be in regular contact, and advise you appropriately. They do not determine what you ultimately decide, but it is critical they help you make the best choices.
3. Disclosure and Crown Attorney Meetings
Around the time of the first court date, disclosure will be obtained from the Crown Attorney. This is the evidence and usually consists of police officers’ notes, witness statements, video, photos, etc.
Over the next few months and subsequent court dates, the disclosure should be reviewed with you and then there are meetings to be had between your lawyer and the Crown Attorney, with a Judge involved in some cases. Will the charges be withdrawn, will there be a guilty plea, is the case proceeding to a trial?
This is the bargaining stage. If there is to be a guilty plea, there needs to be an agreement as to what facts you are accepting as being accurate and what charge you are pleading guilty to. There may be an agreement as to what the recommended sentence will be, or this may be in dispute, left for the Judge to make the final determination. Probation, a fine, jail time?
4. Decision Time - What To Do?
Decision time has come. There may be an offer to resolve on the table, but it is not perfect. At this stage a number of lawyers fail, some being too resolution oriented, some too trial driven.
The focus needs to be on you, the client, and the discussion must be about the potential repercussions and consequences of a guilty plea versus the time, risk, cost, stress and uncertainty of a trial.
If it a difficult decision, some depression may develop, as the reality of the situation sets in. Anxiety and mental paralysis, as you struggle with what to do. Let’s hope your lawyer has done excellent work and you are fully informed, confident of the next steps. The depression is now replaced with relief, understanding and perhaps even elation.
5. It’s Finally Over
While it may not always seem like it, your case will eventually end. The charges might be withdrawn, there may be a guilty plea that provides closure and a good ending given the circumstances, or a Judge may say at the end of a trial, “guilty” and impose a sentence, or “not guilty” and set you free.
At this stage, the case is finally over. Whatever the outcome, life goes on and tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life. Acceptance.