With Ontario criminal charges, your case doesn’t always go to trial where a judge or jury would decide if you are guilty or not guilty. The best possible outcome for a person facing a criminal charge is to convince the Crown Attorney to withdraw the charge as early in the court process as possible, without the necessity of having a stressful and expensive trial. In common parlance, many lay people refer to withdrawn charges as charges that have been “dropped” by the Crown.
The second best outcome which provides the same ultimate result, is to win your case at trial where a judge dismisses the charges or where a jury finds you not guilty. In order to avoid a conviction and a criminal record, the only two possibilities are for your charges to be withdrawn by the Crown or dismissed at trial. One exception to this rule of thumb, is where you plead guilty, but are sentenced to a conditional or absolute discharge which also avoids a conviction, resulting in no criminal record.
In layman’s terms, charges that are withdrawn versus charges that are dismissed may both sound the same. In both cases, you will not be convicted of a crime, a judge is not going to sentence you and you will not have a criminal record. However, in legal terms, withdrawn and dismissed charges have two distinct meanings. For charges that are withdrawn, the criminal process simply stops and no further proceedings are taken against you. If charges are dismissed, it means you have been found not guilty.
If you’ve been charged with assault, impaired driving, mischief, or any other criminal charge, it’s important to know the difference between having charges withdrawn and having charges dismissed. In both cases, it means you are no longer charged with the crime, but the timing of the action and the reasons for the reversal are different. The experienced Toronto criminal lawyers at Kruse Law can answer any questions you may have.
What Happens With Dropped Charges?
When you’ve been accused of a crime in Ontario, several things happen. The police may arrest you if they have reasonable and probable grounds to believe you have committed a crime. Depending on your background, whether you have a criminal record and the severity of the crime, the police or Crown may release you on bail conditions and provide you with a first court appearance date. Alternatively, the Crown may decide to conduct a bail hearing before a justice of the peace in the Ontario Court of Justice to determine if you should be released on bail conditions or held in jail pending your guilty plea or trial. Your first court appearance in case management court is not the trial itself. It is just a minor court appearance where your lawyer appears in court to advise they have been retained and will ask that the matter be remanded (i.e., put over for weeks) to allow him or her to begin to complete the normal steps in a criminal matter. There will usually be multiple court appearances in case management court to allow your lawyer to receive and review the disclosure with you (i.e., all of the evidence the police gathered against you), conduct resolution and/or trial management meetings with the Crown (which are called “Crown pre-trials”), schedule a judicial pre-trial if necessary, and depending on your instructions, set your matter for a guilty plea or trial. In Canada, normally a not guilty plea is entered at the start of your preliminary hearing or trial which occurs many months after your first court appearance.
Charges can be withdrawn or dropped by the Crown at any time in the process. Sometimes charges are even withdrawn on the date your matter is scheduled for trial, just before your trial commences when the Crown finally comes to grips with your case and realizes the evidence against you is weaker than they anticipated. If charges are withdrawn before your trial starts, this means your criminal charges will never go to trial at all, and you are free to go. Possible reasons for dropped charges include, but are not limited to, the following:
- New evidence that clears the accused of the alleged crime(s)
- Crown prosecution decides not to proceed with the case
- Mistaken identity (they arrested the wrong person)
- DNA evidence eliminates the person as the culprit
- Prosecuting is not in the public interest
- Unreliable victim testimony or lack of evidence
- The case against you is weak and there is no reasonable chance of a guilty verdict (i.e., this is the test in Canada regarding whether a criminal charge should be withdrawn by the Crown and the most common reason for the Crown to withdraw charges)
In Canada, alleged victims of crime do not get to drop charges against the accused. However, what they say may influence a prosecutor in making a decision on whether to proceed with the case. If the complainant can give a compelling reason to drop the charges, the Crown may choose to do so. The ultimate decision on whether to proceed with criminal charges rests solely with the Crown. An example where the Crown might withdraw a criminal charge is in a sexual assault matter where the complainant’s psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that the complainant is incapable of testifying due to the additional stress and trauma that appearing in court and being cross-examined would entail. If your charges are withdrawn, you will not have a criminal record. For more minor criminal charges that are dropped such as a DUI, or simple assault, you can usually successfully apply to destroy your police mug shot and fingerprints that were taken. For more serious criminal charges that are withdrawn, such as sexual assault, an application to destroy your mugshot and fingerprints will usually not be initially successful. Unfortunately, the decision to destroy your mugshot and fingerprints is within the discretion of the police force that initially charged you.
Another less common example of when charges are dropped is when you appeal a conviction. If the case goes to trial and you are found guilty, you may file an appeal. In rare circumstances, the appeal court may acquit you of criminal charges. In other words, the appeal court may dismiss the charges. More commonly, the appeal court may order a retrial. If the Crown decides not to proceed with another trial, the charges are effectively dropped too.
What Happens With Dismissed Charges?
Charges that are withdrawn or dropped usually occur during the pre-trial stage. Charges can be dismissed during the actual trial itself. The case makes it through the pre-trial phase, and the main trial begins. During the trial, as the evidence unfolds, the Crown may decide they have a weak case and before completing the evidence, invite the judge to dismiss the charges against you. Assuming the judge agrees with the Crown that there is not sufficient evidence or there is a reasonable doubt, this means that the judge will find you not guilty and dismiss the charges against you. A lack of evidence or weak evidence against an accused is the most common reason for dismissing charges in the middle of a trial. A judge may also find you not guilty following the completion of your trial based on the fact there is a reasonable doubt. A finding of not guilty upon completion of the trial also results in a dismissal of your charges. Some judges will allow a Crown to withdraw a charge in the middle of the trial. However, technically a judge should dismiss the charges in the middle of the trial rather than allowing a Crown to withdraw the charges, assuming the Crown invites them to.
Why Do You Need a Lawyer?
Strong legal representation is invaluable throughout the criminal court process. If it is possible to get the charges dropped early in the case management court process, that would be an excellent outcome. If the judge dismisses charges after your trial, that is the same positive outcome as well, with the exception that the Crown forced you to endure a long and difficult process occasioning more legal fees and stress. But we always tell our clients a “win is a win.” Either way, you have “won” your case. Sometimes you will win the easy way, and sometimes the hard way. Experienced criminal legal counsel is what you need to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.
As mentioned, to destroy your fingerprints and mugshot following a withdrawal or dismissal of your charges, you must put in a formal request to clear your file. Your lawyer can help you take the steps needed to do so. You should request that the police completely destroy your file. There’s no reason to endure undue challenges if you’ve done nothing wrong.
Request a Free Consultation
With any type of criminal offence, the court process is very complex, difficult, and challenging. Kruse Law can help with your legal issues throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Call us toll-free at 1-800-699-0806 or fill out our online contact form. Book a free consultation, and we can best assess your options. It’s fully confidential and at no cost to you. Let us answer any questions you may have. We are on your side.