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Crowded Ontario courts: Many charges for violent crimes withdrawn

In Ontario, nearly half of all criminal charges are withdrawn before trial. This rate outpaces every other part of Canada. A recent report suggests that screening police charges to assess whether they are frivolous charges or involve truly Violent Crimes could be the solution to this large number of withdrawals and long waits for trail across Ontario.

Violent crimes as serious as murder have been thrown out by the Supreme Court on dozens of occasions simply due to delays exceeding time limits. Meanwhile, criminology research shows that close to half of all charges brought against Ontario citizens do not even make it to trial. Researchers argue that these undue charges clog up the justice system, increasing wait times and seriously interrupting the lives of the accused without cause.

Among the considerations is an alternate path for low risk individuals who are not considered at-risk for future violent crimes. Nontraditional punishments have often been considered for these individuals, but Toronto and Ottawa are now experimenting with alternatives to police charges themselves. This new system, which allows the Crown to have the final say in how to pursue charges rather than police, is designed to make the Ontario court system more efficient.

Statistics suggest that multiple charges on suspects are more common provinces like Ontario, where charges are not prescreened by prosecutors. Criminologists suggest that this may be a tactic used to pressure an individual into a plea bargain. For people suspected of violent crimes and nonviolent crimes alike, piling on charges and long waits can interfere with a fair trail.

Trial systems in Toronto and Ottawa as well as reports like this are working to identify issues in the Ontario criminal justice system. However, the system can still be tricky to navigate for many accused perpetrators of violent crimes as well as nonviolent crimes. Accused individuals in Toronto and across Ontario have every right to contact a lawyer to understand their right to a speedy trial, the fairness of plea bargains and other key factors regarding their defense.

Source: CBC News -- Toronto, "Screening of police charges could help clear crowded courts, study says", Mike Crawley, June 28, 2017

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