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  • Writer's pictureShayan Shaffie

How Counselling Can Help Your Criminal Case.

I tell a lot of my clients to enrol in counselling. Especially first-time offenders.

If they were drunk at the time of their arrest: alcoholics anonymous, or an equivalent.

If the allegations contain violence: anger management.

Was mental health was a factor? We’ll find them the right doctor.

Pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, following through often proves the hard part.

Let me tell you why it shouldn’t.

Counselling can help clear the way for an exceptional outcome - even the withdrawal of your charges.

Counselling helps your case.

I don’t always suggest counselling because I think my clients have a problem. Although I care about them on a personal level, I’m not their therapist or their marriage counsellor either. I ask my clients to take counselling because I am absolutely positive it will help their case.

And if they refuse or drag their feet, I’ll take a moment to tell them in no uncertain terms: “Your refusal is foolish - now get on it. You are hurting your own case.”

On thinking like a prosecutor...

Before I started Shaffie Law I was an Assistant Crown Attorney. During that time I learned how prosecutors think and approach cases. I also learned that the vast majority of Crown Attorneys are sensible, intelligent people. And like most sensible, intelligent people they don’t like to saddle strangers with life-changing criminal records or jail time unless they have to.

But Crown Attorneys are busy people. They don’t enjoy the same rich knowledge about my clients’ lives as I do. They don’t know about the years of happy marriage leading up to the domestic charge; or the debilitating, often undiagnosed mental health challenges my client was facing before their contact with the police.

Instead, the Crown gets virtually all their information about you from one place: the criminal file sitting on their desk.

The police paint your picture. Help your lawyer paint a better one.

Your criminal file is put together by the police. It’s a storehouse for all the evidence that makes you look like a criminal. That file is the only snapshot the Crown has of you. Whether you have a drinking or an anger management problem or not, it certainly makes it seem like you do.

This should tell you two very important things:

  1. First, you need a smart, effective criminal lawyer on your side. Without one, your story and the legal holes in your case risk going unnoticed; and

  2. If you want to secure the best possible result, you should do everything your lawyer tells you to prove that the picture contained in your criminal file is not the whole truth.

The best way to do that? Hire a lawyer. And take counselling.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe strongly in the presumption of innocence. When my clients tell me they didn’t do it, or the allegations are only half-true, or it was the either side that struck first – I believe them.

But once you’ve been charged, you need to think carefully: getting at the truth of what happened requires hashing through witnesses and evidence at a trial. That could be months, even years away.

With the right attitude – and the right counselling – you may never have to reach that point.

How counselling looks to a judge.

Long before a criminal case reaches trial, your criminal lawyer will be dealing face to face with an Assistant Crown Attorney. These meetings – known as “Crown pre-trials” or “resolution discussions” – can have a huge impact on your criminal case. In many cases, the Crown may agree to substantially reduce or even drop the charges if you have proven your commitment to address the underlying reasons for your arrest.

“He was drunk at the time. Here’s a certificate of completion from a counselling program.”

“This was a rare mental health episode. Here’s a note from her psychiatrist about the help she’s getting.”

Sounds a lot more convincing than nothing, doesn’t it?

Even if counselling doesn’t convince the Crown to withdraw your charges, it will have beneficial “ripple effects” to the very end of your case. After “Crown pre-trials” there are “judicial pre-trials” involving judges. Showing a judge that a client has done counselling could be just the incentive a judge needs to hold the Crown’s feet to the fire.

Or let’s say you decide to plead guilty or are found guilty after trial. Counselling signals to the judge that is sentencing you that you are serious about staying out of trouble. That can mean the difference between jail or no jail, a criminal record or no criminal record – in short, whether the judge views you as a responsible, insightful person or not.

Convinced? Good.

Now take my advice, pick up the phone, and call the numbers I give you.

It will help your case a lot.

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