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Where can I get a lawyer or paralegal for my criminal case?
Most criminal law issues are complex. It's a good idea to talk to a criminal lawyer or paralegal to help you understand your legal rights and the options you have.
If you can't afford a lawyer or paralegal, you may be able to find legal help in other places.
Lawyers can give legal advice. This means they can explain what the law says and how it applies to your situation. They can also:
- explain your options, such as diversion, pleading guilty, or having a trial
- tell you the sentence you may get
- negotiate with the Crown for you
- represent you in court
Make sure you talk to a lawyer with experience in criminal law.
Sometimes a criminal law lawyer is also called an attorney, barrister, solicitor, or defence lawyer. The lawyer who is responsible for proving you're guilty is called the Crown attorney.
If you have a low income, you may be able to get help from Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). This may include getting a legal aid certificate if you meet LAO's financial eligibility rules and your legal issue is one that LAO covers. In criminal law, legal aid certificates are usually only given for cases where there is a strong possibility of jail time if you're found guilty.
A paralegal is another kind of legal professional that can give legal advice in certain areas. A paralegal can work for a lawyer and be supervised by them. Or, they can work for themselves.
A paralegal can cost less than a lawyer. But a paralegal is not allowed to work in all the legal areas that a lawyer can.
In criminal law, a paralegal can only represent you for some summary offences. These are usually more minor crimes where the maximum penalty is:
- 6 months in prison,
- a $5,000 fine, or
Examples of summary offences include causing a disturbance in a public place, harassing phone calls, and trespassing at night.
Emergency service while in custody
If you need to talk to a lawyer while you're in custody, the police must tell you about the Brydges duty counsel service. This is a service provided by Legal Aid Ontario. It gives free legal advice to anyone in Ontario who is detained or arrested. It is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The service is available in English, French, and any other language through an interpreter.
Tell the police officer that you want to talk to duty counsel if you don't have your own criminal lawyer. The officer should call the hotline for you and let you speak with duty counsel in private. If duty counsel is not available, the officer can leave a message and duty counsel should call you back within 30 minutes.