If you are arrested and have to go to court to face charges, the police will give you a date for your first court appearance. It is important to talk to a lawyer before you go to court; a lawyer can help you tell your side of the story and knows how the court process works. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may still be able to get one through the legal aid program.
Usually your court appearance will be in the community where you were arrested. If you are in jail, the staff will make arrangements to get you to court for your first appearance. If you are not going to be able to get to court, you should have a good reason for not attending, and make sure your lawyer and court worker know. It is your responsibility to find out your next court date and to be there. If you do not go to court, the judge can have you arrested again.
Before going to court, you should meet with your lawyer. This is very important. Your lawyer will look at the evidence and give you advice on how similar cases worked out. It is a good idea to think seriously about everything your lawyer says so you can make good decisions.
If you and your lawyer decided that you should plead guilty, the court will arrange a sentencing appearance so that the judge can sentence you. At a sentencing, the judge will decide if you will be released, and the conditions of your release.
If you plead not guilty, your case has to go to trial and the prosecutor has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Your lawyer will arrange for a trial date and the judge will delay or adjourn your case until then. If you were released from police custody, remember that you are still bound by the conditions of your release and can be arrested again if you break them.
For less serious charges, it may be possible to have your case diverted and handled by a Community Justice Committee. You can avoid having a permanent criminal record, but you will have to accept responsibility for your actions by pleading guilty. The Committee is formed of members of your community, and they will decide what you need to do to fix the problems you have caused and prevent them from happening again.
If you are convicted
If you are found guilty after a trial or after pleading guilty, the Judge will impose a sentence. You should talk to your lawyer or court worker about what happened in court. They will tell you if you have to pay a fine, meet with a probation officer, or follow any special rules.
The judge may put you on probation. This means that you do not have to go to jail, but you have to report to a probation officer and do other things in your community. The probation officer's job is to make sure you follow the judge's orders. For example, you might be required to stay home at night, and your probation officer will check to make sure you are there. Your probation officer can help you make a plan to help you follow the judge's orders.
Going to jail
If the judge sends you to jail, the police will usually take you to one of the NWT's correctional centres. A case manager will be assigned to you and will help you work out problems at home.
Sometimes you may want to show a person you hurt that you are sorry. Remember that they need to be safe - sometimes it's best to leave the person alone. The judge may also have ordered you to stay away. Talk to your case manager about your options and how you can make better choices in the future.
If you are in government housing, you have to let your local Housing Organization know what happened. They will hold the unit for you for up to three months, but if you are going to be in jail for longer you will need to re-apply when you get out.
If you can't do your job because you are in jail or because of something the judge ordered, you will need to be honest about that. For example if you are a truck driver and your license was suspended, your boss needs to know.