Keeping some criminal charges out of court makes sense
By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor
Criminal charges aren’t always followed by a guilty plea or a trial, as other options can be more cost-effective and beneficial for those involved, says London criminal lawyer Carolynn Conron.
“In my practice, I like to use creative thinking, trying to find solutions in the best interest of my clients,” says Conron, principal of Conron Law Professional Corporation.
The first strategy is to advocate to have the charges withdrawn, she says, which can work if there is no reasonable prospect of conviction, or if it’s not in the public’s interest to proceed with the case.
“That might happen because the case may require a disproportionate use of resources relative to the potential outcome,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.
The next option is to have the charges stayed, or put on hold for a year, during which time the Crown has the option to reopen them, Conron says.
Diversions options such as the Direct Accountability Program — administered in London by St. Leonard’s Community Services in conjunction with other local groups — can take people out of the regular stream of justice, she says.
“Once they are accepted into that program, offenders have several options such as community service, making a charitable donation, or writing an apology letter,” says Conron. “This usually involves a six-week time commitment, with the charge dropped once they have completed the program.”
“These courts try to provide the necessary medical and community supports these people need, to help them deal with their issues and keep them out of future legal trouble,” Conron says.
Indigenous adults and youths charged with crimes can apply for the N’amerind Diversion Program, which encourages healing and responsibility through traditional methods such as healing circles and culturally relevant educational programs, she says.
“These programs will address whatever substance abuse, mental health, or anger issue that led to the person coming before the court,” Conron says.
“The survival of the N’amerind program is now in doubt, due to funding cuts from the province,” she adds.
Youth who run afoul of the law can apply to have their cases handled through Extrajudicial Sanctions as an alternative to court, Conron says, explaining this allows young people to do community service, write an apology letter, or participate in anger awareness or substance abuse programs.
“Extrajudicial sanctions help young people be directly accountable to the community their actions affected and gives them a chance to pay that back,” she says. “It is like a restorative justice program.”
All these non-court options present advantages for both the people facing charges and the judicial system, Conron says.
“For my clients, the advantage is that they know the charge will be withdrawn once they successfully complete the program,” she says. “If they go to trial, there is always the risk of being found guilty and suffering a much greater consequence.”
Diverting cases out of the regular justice system also frees up time and resources for more serious cases, Conron says, speeding up trials.
On a human level, she says her clients are very appreciative to have their cases dealt with through one of the diversion streams, giving the example of a client charged for possessing stolen property.
“She was alleged to have sold stolen property to a gold buyer,” Conron says. “There were triable issues about whether she knew the property was stolen, particularly given her intellectual challenges.”
She says this woman’s case was handled by the Direct Accountability Program, where she agreed to work at Habitat for Humanity as a way to compensate for her actions.
“She found the work very fulfilling, and hoped to continue volunteering there afterward,” Conron says. “She was really thankful to have that opportunity, as it gave her a positive focus in her life while allowing her to take direct action to have her criminal charges withdrawn.”
For some charges, such as assault, she says another option is a peace bond, granted under s. 810 of the Criminal Code or it could be a common law peace bond, which is entered into before a judge.
These bonds usually require people to formally promise to do a variety of things, Conron says, such as not doing anything illegal, coming to the court when required, not carrying weapons, and having no contact or communication with the person that led to them being charged.
“These conditions are called victim safeguards, and if the charged person agrees and abides by them, the charges will be dropped,” she says.
This is the first instalment of a three-part series. Stay tuned for Part 2 in the series where Conron will discuss the scenario of someone being sent to a healing lodge to serve part of their sentence after being found guilty of murder.