Come to Court Early
If you are attending any criminal Court in Canada you should come early. That means allowing yourself extra time for bad weather, bad traffic, finding the Courthouse, getting parked, Courthouse security, and finding the right courtroom.
It is essential that you arrive at the Brampton Courthouse at least one half hour prior to your scheduled Court appearance. When Assignment Courts are running there is usually a 20 minute line up while you go through security at the entrance.
Brampton has a very large Courthouse. Courtroom #105 and 104 are on the main floor to your left after you go through security. The bail courts #101 and #102 are also on the main floor near security. The bail court for drug matters is courtroom #206.
The first appearance Youth Court #204 is on the second floor. Take the elevator near security and walk down the hallway towards #204.
The first appearance Drug Court is in #204 on Thursdays and #212 on Fridays. You can take the escalator past the jury assembly room and find #212 down the hall.
Check in with Duty Counsel if you Need Emergency Advice
Just as importantly, you need to speak to your own lawyer or duty counsel at least 15 minutes before Court starts. Don't suggest to any Court official that you are planning to plead guilty until after you have spoken to counsel.
Find 104/105 assignment court duty counsel in Room 110 and in the courtroom.
Find 204 Youth Court or drug court duty counsel in the interview rooms just outside or just inside the doorway to #204.
Find 212 Drug Court duty counsel in the interview rooms just outside Courtroom #212.
Find bail duty counsel in Room 111 near the entrance to Courtroom 103 and 104.
Duty counsel can outline your basic options: Adjournments, Guilty Pleas, Trials, Bails, etc.
Don't Plead Guilty Right Away
On your first day at Court, it is imperative that you do NOT plead guilty right away, unless you have spoken in depth with either Duty Counsel or your own lawyer.
You need to get Disclosure first and read it. You need to know what they say you did. Even if you are guilty you may not agree with the facts that the police allege in their synopsis of evidence.
You won't know what the Crown is asking for in punishment until your lawyer or duty counsel has met person-to-person with the Crown. There may be good tactical reasons why it should be your own lawyer and not duty counsel who negotiates punishment with the Crown.
Even if the Crown agrees to a non-custodial sentence, the Judge may not agree. You still could go to jail. You need to talk to your lawyer about all the possibilities first.
Ask for Disclosure
After the police officers have completed making their notes, they will make photocopies of their notes and the witness statements, together with other relevant materials (including videos) and send them to the Crown Attorney a few days before your first appearance. The Case Management office will prepare a package of "disclosure" from the Crown brief with most of these documents but with the addresses and phone numbers of Crown witnesses blacked out.
On your first appearance you should ask for your copy of "disclosure" unless your lawyer advises you otherwise. Take good care of it and don't let the documents fall into the wrong hands.
You don't have to give "disclosure" to the Crown of your case. That's a secret between you and your own lawyer.
Ask for an Adjournment for 3 Weeks
Duty counsel will suggest to you that you adjourn your case for a few weeks to give you an opportunity to read your disclosure and go over it with your own lawyer. Don't plan to get your case over with quickly unless your lawyer has advised you that it is a good idea. Courts will need information about you even if you plead guilty. Get advice from your lawyer about character references and letters from employers.
Get advice from your lawyer about all your options. It's worth taking the extra time and the Court will give you any reasonable adjournment you request on First Appearance.
Hire a Lawyer
Not many Canadians would pull out their own teeth if they had toothaches. Very few people perform surgery on themselves. Don't do your own legal work either. Criminal law lawyers have many years of education, training as students, work experience, familiarity with the Judges, Crowns, police and Court systems. It may cost you some of your hard-earned savings but ultimately you need the benefit of their experience.
Peel lawyers have a great deal of experience battling out and negotiating out resolutions of tough criminal matters. We do not practice in an easy jurisdiction. You need our help.
You'll meet many of us doing our bit as duty counsel once or twice a month in assignment court, plea court, or bail court. If we speak to you as duty counsel though, you can't retain that same lawyer.
It's always best to hire a lawyer privately. That way you get what you pay for. Your lawyer will have the flexibility to take the time and seek out the evidence and law that you need, whether you are pleading guilty or not guilty.
If you are destitute or unable to come up with the finances necessary to retain a lawyer privately, there is a plan called Legal Aid Ontario. You can apply for Legal Aid by phone. Once you get a legal aid certificate you can bring that certificate to a lawyer of your choice. Not all lawyers take legal aid certificates. Right now the Legal Aid system is under terrible financial stress and the pay lawyers receive on certificates is not adequate.