What happens after the accused is arrested? Will the accused be put in jail?
After an accused is arrested, the police may:
- keep him/her in custody (jail) until there is a bail hearing before a judge to decide whether he/she should be released; or
- release the accused immediately from the police station if the accused promises to appear in court and agrees to follow any conditions imposed to protect you and the community, such as not to contact you.
The law is that a person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty and, therefore, is allowed to remain out of custody while awaiting trial, unless there is strong evidence of risk that he/she will commit other crimes during this time or he/she will not show up for court.
If a bail hearing (which is a hearing to assess risk) is held and the judge orders the release of the accused, he/she will be required to obey certain rules imposed by the court, such as having no contact of any kind with you and staying a certain distance away from you, your home, your work or school, or anywhere else you may normally be. Even if the accused is held in custody, he /she will likely have a condition imposed not to have any contact with you directly or indirectly.
You can get a copy of the court order (legal document) containing any conditions that were imposed on the accused. If the accused breaks those conditions he/she can be arrested again and put back into custody pending another bail hearing. A Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) worker will be assigned to help guide you through the court process and you can ask that person for a copy. More information about VWAP services is contained below in the section “Will I receive support during this time?” If the court imposes a rule that the accused is to have no contact with you, and he /she does, you should contact the police immediately.
Will everyone know that I’ve been sexually assaulted?
At the earliest opportunity, the Crown Attorney (the lawyer who prosecutes criminal matters on behalf of the Ministry of the Attorney General) will ask for a publication ban. This means that it becomes a criminal offence for anyone to publish or broadcast information that would reveal your identity. For sexual assaults, the judge has to make this order if it is requested. If you do not want there to be a publication ban regarding your identity, you should let the Crown Attorney know as soon as possible. Your VWAP (613-545-2455) worker can help you to communicate your wishes to the Crown Attorney.
Please note: That a publication ban does not prevent members of the public from coming into the courtroom to watch the proceedings.
You should also be aware that the accused person has a right to “disclosure," which means that the Crown Attorney must provide copies of all relevant police reports and witness statements to the defence. This means that if a charge is laid, the accused person will know that you have made a report to the police and will see your police statement and any other evidence that you have provided. However, the accused person will not be given your address or phone number. In very exceptional cases, where there are significant safety concerns, it may be possible for the Crown Attorney to request an order to prevent a victim’s identity from being known to anyone.
Does a case always go to trial?
No, in some cases the accused will plead guilty to some or all of the charges or to another charge related to the same incident. Sometimes the Crown and the defence will come to an agreement about how to resolve the case, also known as a plea agreement. You have a right to be kept informed about whether a case will end up as a guilty plea and to give your opinion on any proposed outcome. Sometimes the Crown may decide that the case cannot go ahead because there may not be sufficient evidence or a reasonable prospect of conviction. If the Crown decides that the case won’t be going ahead, you have a right to be told why. The VWAP (613-545-2455) worker assigned to your case, in cooperation with the Crown Attorney, will keep you up to date about any important developments. If you have any questions or concerns with what is going on with your case, call you VWAP worker and ask for an update.
How long does the court process take?
The length of the court process will depend on the details of the case. If the case is proceeding in the Superior Court of Justice or the case is appealed, the process tends to be longer. If the case goes to trial, it could take about a year, or even a few years by the time everything is completed. That does not mean that the trial itself will take anywhere near that long, but the courts are very busy so it can take a while to set aside court time for the trial. Time is also required to complete the investigation and for the Crown and defence to get ready for trial. The Crown also needs time to meet with you to prepare you for trial. If the accused is in jail while awaiting trial, things will usually move more quickly. Also, if there is a guilty plea or the case ends in some other way or does not go ahead, the process will take less time.
What if I want the charges to be dropped?
It is important to understand that you are not the one who charged the accused. The police are the ones who laid the charge. You reported the incident to the police, and the police made the decision to charge the accused with a crime based on their investigation. Once charges are laid, it is up the Crown Attorney whether or not to proceed with them; it is not a decision that you can make.
That said, your wishes will be an important factor in the Crown Attorney’s decision. If you want the charges dropped, it is extremely important that you contact the Crown Attorney through VWAP as soon as possible to let the Crown Attorney know that this is what you want, and why.
Please note: VWAP or the police cannot withdraw charges but the VWAP worker assigned to your case can help you make an appointment to speak to the Crown Attorney about this and attend that meeting with you.
You should be aware that the Crown Attorney has to keep many other factors in mind in deciding whether to drop the charges, for example, where there is reason to believe that the accused poses a significant threat to the safety of the public, or to your safety.
The Crown Attorney will discuss all of this with you but it is important to understand that the Crown Attorney is not your lawyer; the Crown Attorney is the lawyer for the public.
The Crown has to keep the public interest, as well as your personal interests, in mind when deciding whether to withdraw charges.
Will I have my own lawyer?
Although the Crown Attorney will seek your input on what happens with the case, they are not your lawyer, they represent the public. If the matter goes to trial, your VWAP worker and the Crown will prepare you to testify.
You are free to hire a lawyer on your own to provide you with advice as the case goes through the justice system, but the Crown Attorney is the one that is in charge of the case.
It is important to note that in a criminal trial, a survivor of sexual assault is a witness in the case, and not a party to the proceedings. Therefore, while a lawyer you hire can provide you with advice and assistance outside of the courtroom, with very few exceptions, the lawyer will not be able to represent you in court.
Please note: An Independent Legal Advice pilot program is in place for survivors of sexual assault. This pilot program is available for survivors of sexual assault living in the cities of Toronto, Ottawa and the District of Thunder Bay. A survivor of sexual assault may receive up to four hours of free confidential legal advice by phone or in person. This program is limited to legal advice, not representation in court. It is intended to empower survivors by explaining legal options available to them in order to assist them in making informed choices. To access the pilot program, you must fill out and submit a voucher request form. The form is available at Ontario.ca/legaladvice. This website also provides more information about the program. You can also call the toll free line at 1-855-226-3904 for more information.
Will I receive support during this time?
Yes. After the accused has been arrested, the Victim Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) will be notified of your case. VWAP offers information, assistance and support to survivors of sexual assault after charges are laid and throughout the criminal court process. This includes arranging for language interpreters if needed, helping you with your accessibility needs, connecting you with the Crown Attorney handling your case, explaining the criminal court process, providing court updates, assisting with court preparation, asking for your views at key times in the process, advocating for your needs, providing emotional support, informing you of your rights, assisting you in obtaining copies of court orders, and connecting you with other community support resources.
In the initial stages of the case, for example at the time of the accused’s bail hearing, a VWAP worker will be assigned to the case and will contact you to offer support and update you as the case moves forward. It will often be the same VWAP worker who will continue with the case until the matter is completed in court and can provide you with updates and support throughout the entire court process.
Please note: You are encouraged to contact the VWAP office at any time with any questions or concerns, or for support and referrals. VWAP has a confidentiality policy, which will be explained to you at the beginning of services, including what information will be shared with whom. For the protection of your privacy and confidentiality and to ensure that your case isn't compromised, your VWAP worker is not able to discuss any evidence related to the case with you. This includes details about the allegations. If you do mention anything about these issues to your worker, she/he is required to disclose this information to the Crown Attorney and/or police.