May 25, 2018
Most of us have been victims of crime in our lives. Maybe you have been threatened or stolen from; these types of offences inconvenience you for a short time, but most of the time, you can move past them. But what if it is something more serious?
We hear about things that have happened to a friend of a friend, or we see stories on the news, and we hope that’s never us- the victim of a domestic assault, a robbery, and break and enter, a sexual assault, or worse…
We are a criminal defence law firm. We have extensive experience defending those charged with all these types of crimes. However, we also have a unique expertise in assisting victims of crime. Before joining Filkow Law, I was a Crown Attorney in the north, prosecuting violent offences against children. During my time as a prosecutor, I helped dozens if not hundreds of deeply traumatized and vulnerable victims of crime and witnesses navigate the court process and participate in the criminal justice system. I am proud to have brought that experience to Filkow Law, and to have helped develop this as an area of practice for our firm. We are now considered a leader in acting for complainants and witnesses.
Victims Of Crime In BC: What To Expect
If you have found yourself unfortunately standing in those unenviable shoes, having been victimized by crime, there are some things you can expect as the wheels of justice begin to turn.
The Investigation Stage
First, depending on the type of offence, you may be subjected to numerous and ongoing interviews and exams. The police and medical professionals sometimes have a very small window in which to gather evidence against your offender. During this time, you may be struggling to process things yourself and it can feel like investigators are not sensitive to your experience. On the other hand, in some cases you may feel like investigators are not going fast enough. You have gone to police and provided what you think is good evidence, and months have gone by without any movement towards an arrest or charge- why haven’t they done anything about it? The law has developed significantly in recent years which make the timing and nature of the investigation very critical to the case.
We are very familiar having acted for both sides with how this process should work. Not only can we help you navigate this confusing and frustrating whirlwind that is the beginning of a case, but we can also liaise with the various players (investigating officers, charge approval Crowns, victims’ services workers, the media) on your behalf. You may want things to move slower, or faster, you may want more information, or you may want the process to stop altogether. We can advocate for your position, whatever it may be.
Transitioning From The Investigation Stage To The Courts
Once charges are laid, the case moves from the investigation stage into the courts. The time between the first court appearance and the conclusion of the case either by trial or sentencing may take anywhere from a month or two to several years. As a victim or witness, you may feel frustrated during this process because the case becomes all about the accused. The accused gets a lawyer of his or her choice who stands up in court asserting his client’s rights and demanding certain things from the Crown and court. The case may drag on for months and months with nothing happening and all you keep hearing about is the accused’s rights. Meanwhile, you are being told exactly how you must cooperate in order to avoid being charged yourself.
As the matter works its way through the courts, the Crown will speak with you periodically, and they may be informative and seem supportive, but it is important to realize that the Crown is not your lawyer. Their obligation is to be fair to the accused and the law, not to advocate for your interests. You are merely their witness. The only way to ensure you are getting all the information, options, and a realistic idea of the consequences of your choices, is to retain your own counsel.
Finally, the matter will either be dropped, proceed to a guilty plea and sentencing, or a trial. You may hope for one of these things above the others. Communicating with the Crown directly can be counter-productive in this regard. Remember, they are not your lawyer; they have their own interests which are quite different than yours. However, if you have your own counsel, we can tell you what decisions you can make which will likely lead to certain outcomes.
If Your Case Goes To Trial
If the case goes the distance and you find yourself with a subpoena to testify at a trial, it may be over a year after you first became victimized by the accused. Your memory will be put to the test. But your heart will be tested harder. You will have to sit in a closed space, the accused watching you as you speak, his lawyer treating you like a liar, or a drunk, or a slut… This may be the first time you have had to face him since the incident, or this may end a long string of him attempting to dissuade you from testifying. Either way, here you are. If you weren’t feeling victimized before, you certainly are now- at least if you didn’t know what to expect and were not prepared.
Reviewing Your Statement Before Trial
The Crown can let you review your statement before testifying and will give you some pointers on how the court works. But, again, the only way to be fully prepared is with your own counsel. Having prosecuted hundreds of cases, I can walk you through every possible question and situation in advance of the trial. My favourite exercise that I use to prepare my victim/witness clients to testify is a role play; first I play the Crown and ask them every question the Crown can possibly ask, and then I play the defence lawyer, and cross-examine them way harder than they will likely ever be cross-examined in court. The opportunity for my clients to go through this process in a private setting, in the safety and comfort of my office before facing the accused in trial, has proven invaluable and unmatchable by any other means. Just remember that if you get tripped up, riled up, or choked up while testifying it can make the difference between guilty and not guilty. Don’t get caught off guard. Let us help you prepare. We can stand up for your rights as a victim of crime. Contact Filkow Law if you have been victimized.