Should There Be Access To A Public Defender In Traffic Court?
Today I went to the Toronto West Court Office at the York Civic Centre to look into a few things in preparation for a traffic court appearance which I will soon have to make. The alleged offence occurred, according to the ticket I received from a police officer, on December 31, 2010 and my trial is in December of 2011. As far as I know, this length of time is a violation of my rights as afforded to me by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically, it is in violation of Section 11(b) which reads:
11. Any person charged with an offence has the right
(b) to be tried within a reasonable time;
And last I checked/heard the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that ‘a reasonable time’ is defined as 8-10 months. However, I am not a lawyer. The Prosecutor’s Office has professional lawyers because, quite obviously they are the Prosecutor’s Office and it is their job to make sure that people guilty of criminal acts are sentenced within our laws. But is that fair? Is it a fair trial when I am not granted access to an attorney of my own? Maybe not to represent me in court but to advise me in the lead up to being in court?
The reason I say this specifically is because I was in the Prosecutor’s Office filing for disclosure to be given to me and was speaking with the lady behind the counter – who I assume is an aid, a secretary, an assistant, or a law student and not an actual prosecutor (but I could be wrong). I spoke with her about the length of time between my being ticketed and the upcoming court date and whether or not it violates Section 11(b). She refused to answer the question. Because I had already done some light research on the internet into the matter I then asked her where I could get the form necessary to file a complaint about these right being violated. Again, she refused to answer me. How is it fair for the every day untrained citizen to be going up against professionals when their rights are being violated? It isn’t in my mind.
A couple of years ago, I did some research work for a criminal defense attorney in Toronto. This was a man who defended people up for trial for assault and rape and theft and the like and one of the first days I was working with him he sat me down and explained a question I hadn’t asked him but he figured was buzzing around my head – how can he defend these people and sleep at night? His answer was that the way he looked at it, it was his job to see that everything was done fairly. If he got somebody off of a charge because the police officers involved in the case messed up in a procedural manner then he was ensuring that everything was done fairly and he had done his job. Not only had he done his job but he was keeping the very root of our Western Civilization alive with his work. If we allow the police and the prosecution to ignore legal procedure because we know that Person X is totally guilty what happens when Person Y is up there and we aren’t so certain but one of the police officers is certain? It is clearly not a perfect system and I almost don’t think we can ever have a perfect system of justice because we are human and we are fallible but that is why we have to follow the rules as they are laid out – even if it means people we think are absolutely guilty get off free.
In my mind, it is just as much the prosecutor’s role to make sure that all the rules are followed as it is the defense attorney’s. More so even because they are public servants. In a way we can at least thank our lucky stars that we have the internet today because one of my friends saw my check-in on Foursquare and advised me that all the details I need should be available on the RedFlagDeals Forums. As well, OntarioHighwayTrafficAct.com is a site which looks to be fairly promising. However, these are not fully reliable because how can I know whether or not the guides in them are written by a lawyer or even someone who has truly been through the system? I can’t.
Because of this I am going to reiterate what I said above. In my mind – even in Traffic Court – if they are going to have a professional lawyer working for the prosecution and a professional judge (or even a professional Justice of the Peace) judging me I should get a reasonable amount of access to a professional lawyer at some stage to at least help me defend myself, an untrained layman, against all these professionals. Barring that, I suggest we start calling people in, at random, for “Prosecution Duty” to try Traffic Court cases. If the citizen being tried doesn’t have their tax dollars going towards helping them in some way during these proceedings why should the government be allowed to use our tax dollars against us? (And it is our tax dollars which are paying for the prosecutor’s salary, don’t kid yourself.)
This is my $0.02 on the matter, what do you think?
Note: I am prepared to ripped to shreds as to why I am dead wrong by people who are professional lawyers or court officials so don’t worry about hurting my feelings.