Investigation and Charges

Last Reviewed: October, 2022 Reviewed by: JES Download

Investigation & Arrest

Police investigations usually start when a possible crime is reported to the police. The police will gather evidence, record witness statements, and report their own observations. 

If the police suspect you of a crime, they may get a warrant to arrest you. They may arrest you without a warrant under certain circumstances such as if they see you committing a crime. If you are arrested, the police will read certain rights that you are entitled to, including your right to silence and your right to speak to a lawyer.

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To learn more about your rights when interacting with the police, see The Arrest Handbook, BC Civil Liberties Association

If you are being investigated or arrested, you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. You can call Legal Aid BC to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer (see “Legal Help” section). Legal Aid BC can also give you free legal information. If you do not qualify for a lawyer, you might be able to get free legal advice. The person you speak to on the phone will let you know your options.

Referral to Court

If the police do not release you after arrest, they must bring you in front of a judge within 24 hours of your arrest for a bail hearing. See Bail Hearing to learn more.

In less serious cases, the police may release you right away or soon after the arrest. In these cases, they will usually give you a document telling you to go to court on a certain date. You may receive an appearance notice, a promise to appear, a summons, recognizance, or a government document called an Information. No matter which document you have, it will tell you:

  • what crime you’ve been accused of, and
  • the date, time, and place of your first court appearance. 

For minor offences, you may not be arrested at all, but receive a promise to appear in court in the mail. How ever you get it, if you get such a document, it is important you attend court on that date or you could risk having a warrant put out for your arrest and further criminal charges. See First Appearance to learn what will happen when you go to court. 

Charge Approval

In British Columbia, the police investigate crimes, but it is the Crown Counsel who approves charges. The police will send the results of their investigation to Crown Counsel and suggest what charges should be laid. The Crown lawyers will determine whether:

  • there is strong enough evidence to meet the charge approval standard, and 
  • whether it is in the public interest to lay charges. 

Types of Charges

Crimes (or “offences”) are actions or omissions that break the law and cause harm to the society. For an act to be treated as a crime in Canada, it must be recorded in a statute. Most crimes are recorded in the Criminal Code but other acts list crimes as well.

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What is a crime? BC Government

While there are hundreds of crimes, they can be broken down into two categories: summary and indictable offences. 

The type of offence you are charged with will determine the type of court process that applies to your case. It will also determine any maximum or minimum punishments you might receive if you are convicted.

Generally summary offences are less serious and indictable crimes are more serious. 





Less serious, petty crime

More serious


Theft under $5,000

Aggravated assault

Court Appearance

Accused does not need to make court appearances if they have a lawyer or agent to make them on their behalf

Accused must make all court appearances personally, even if represented by a lawyer

Trial Court

Trial must be in Provincial Court


Accused can usually* choose Provincial or Supreme Court with judge and jury or judge alone. 

*The most serious offences must be heard in Supreme Court.

Potential sentences

Usually, maximum sentence of $5,000 fine or 6 months in jail

Wide range of sentencing options up to life in prison


Most crimes are hybrid offences, meaning the Crown gets to elect (choose) whether to treat the offence as summary or as an indictable, depending on how serious the circumstances are. For example:


s.266 Every one who commits an assault is guilty of:

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; 


(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.


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