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Calgary Court Proceedings: How Long Will Your Case Take?

Criminal Court Case Duration in Alberta

Being involved in a criminal case can quickly and easily consume your entire world. Your personal life, professional career, relationships and mental health are all upended while your future hangs in the balance. One of the most common questions we hear from our clients and their family members is, “How long will this criminal case take?”

Depending on the specifics of your charges, case and plea, your court proceedings can take anywhere from two months to two years or even longer. Each stage of the criminal trial process has a unique set of variables. These stages are:

  • Investigation and charges
  • Pretrial proceedings
  • Trial
  • Sentencing
  • Appeals process

This may feel overwhelming whether it is your first time through the judicial system or if you have seen this before. Being informed about your criminal case and charges can help you and your family to understand the process and get through this legal issue as comfortably as possible. Bulwark Law stands ready to defend each and every client to the fullest extent of the law. Contact Bulwark Law online or call 403-678-7360 to book a free initial consultation on your legal issue.

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Stages of a Criminal Court Case and Their Typical Durations

  • Investigation and Charges: As soon as a crime is committed, the police investigate the nature of the event and its circumstances; examine physical evidence; interview witnesses; and gather police reports, medical reports, and financial documents pertaining to the crime. Depending on the crime, this can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. The results of this investigation and the evidence produced is called the disclosure. The Supreme Court of Canada states that this disclosure must be provided to you in order for you to properly defend yourself.
  • Pre-Trial Proceedings: Following the arrest, there is a first court appearance, in which the judge reads the charges against you. You are then asked whether they plead guilty or not guilty. At this stage, disclosure is not usually complete, and so you may want an adjournment to receive the rest of the evidence against you before deciding what to do. An experienced Calgary criminal defence lawyer picks apart the prosecutorial strategy and may pull apart enough of the Crown’s case that the court case cannot proceed.

Also, at this point, resolution and plea bargains are also discussed. Aside from pleading guilty, there are a number of ways to potentially resolve your case without receiving a criminal record. You can learn more about criminal records and case outcomes that don’t give you a criminal record here.

One of those options is a Peace Bond, and you can learn more about Peace Bonds here.

Because there is a lot of information and a number of decisions to be made in these pretrial proceedings, this is often the longest stretch of the criminal case’s length. These proceedings take place months before trial, so there is ample time to mount a defence.

Depending on the severity of the charge, you may also have the option of a Preliminary Inquiry before your trial. A Preliminary Inquiry is a sort of “screening” of the evidence, where a court hears the Prosecutor’s case and determines if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.

  • Trial: If you plead not guilty, you will be scheduled for trial. Trials are scheduled for anywhere from a few hours to many days and even months, depending on the type of case. Summary charges often yield a shorter trial, while indictable offences generally bring about a longer criminal court case duration. If you are found not guilty at the end of your trial, your criminal case is over, and you get to walk free.
  • Sentencing: If a person is found guilty by trial or accepts a plea bargain, there is a sentencing hearing wherein a judge determines the appropriate punishment for the crime. In simpler cases, the judge may determine a sentence right after the trial or guilty plea. More complex cases have scheduled sentencing hearings a few weeks later to give all parties time to consider all factors and potentially reduce jail time or fines in favour of other consequences.

Factors Influencing a Calgary Court Case Length

Your criminal case duration is determined by a number of specific factors:

  • The severity of the charges – There are summary, indictable or hybrid criminal charges, as outlined by Canada’s Criminal Code
  • Complexity and nature of the case
  • The number and complexity of pretrial motions
  • The amount of evidence
  • Court availability and scheduling
  • Whether the case goes to trial or is resolved through a plea agreement
  • Whether the case is heard by a judge alone or before a jury

Some more straightforward criminal offences will generally take less time to resolve. Simple drug cases and other summary crimes, for example, such as drug possession, may be resolved in two to three months, from arrest to resolution. But more complex indictable charges such as drug trafficking, which could include a large-scale operation with many participants, jurisdictions, witnesses, and pharmaceutical and financial analysis, will take several months or years to conclude.

Similarly, if there is a lot of evidence in the case and many witnesses or people involved, the lawyers will take a great deal of time to review all the disclosed evidence, including police reports, witness testimony, security or CCTV footage, substances requiring testing for identification, and more.

As we all saw during Covid-19, scheduling cases in court can be tricky. Additionally, you may have seen in the news that Alberta criminal courts carry a backlog. This is due to cases being pushed back because of the shortage of Legal Aid and Duty Counsel to represent those accused of crimes who cannot afford a lawyer. This need not be your problem – contact Bulwark Law online or call 403-678-7360 to book a free initial consultation on your legal issue and see if our firm is a good fit for your case.

Finally, at your first court appearance, you will be asked to enter your plea. This is when you would tell the court whether you plead guilty or not guilty. All those accused of committing a criminal offence are considered innocent until proven guilty. So if you enter a guilty plea, the justice may ask you some questions to confirm you know what you are doing and that you are actually guilty of the offence. If you enter a plea of not guilty, the matter will go to trial, and then your court case length will increase significantly.

The Role of the Defence Lawyer in Expediting the Process

In each of these stages of a criminal case, your Calgary defence lawyer can find opportunities to poke holes in the Crown’s case. Moreover, your legal counsel can and should move the process along swiftly so the court case length does not drag.

Your rights, and your freedom, depend on hiring a criminal defence lawyer who understands the criminal court process inside and out and who knows the people involved in criminal matters in Calgary and throughout Alberta, such as police, prosecutors, probation officers, and judges. Knowing the ins and outs means Bulwark Law can find favourable positions for your case.

Trust Your Future and Your Freedom to an Experienced Alberta Lawyer

Lawyer Jeremy Newton worked as a Federal Prosecutor for ten years before crossing the aisle and protecting the rights of those alleged to have committed a crime. This experience helps Bulwark Law to paint an accurate picture of the timeline of your court case duration and ensure your court proceedings do not drag. Contact Bulwark Law online or call 403-678-7360 to book a free initial consultation on your criminal case and the specifics of your court case duration.


What is the average length of a criminal court case in Alberta?

Depending on the charge, plea and circumstance, your criminal court case length could be anywhere from 2 months to two years or more. Bulwark Law sets expectations and keeps clients apprised of any potential delays and turnaround time for each stage of the criminal process.

How can I expedite my court case?

Knowing the judges, justices, prosecutors and police throughout Alberta can help get your case into the courts in a way that is best suited for a fair trial and a beneficial outcome. The experience of a seasoned criminal defence lawyer can come in handy at each phase of your court case proceedings.

What can delay my court case?

If your Charter rights were violated during the investigation, arrest, or any other point during your case, pretrial motions might push back the trial date so there is time to investigate and potentially get tainted evidence removed from the Crown’s case. Charter rights violations include an illegal search of a person or premises and seized evidence that will be used against you. Your criminal defence lawyer may also request a motion to determine the validity of a confession obtained by police and whether the confession was coerced or forced and should not be used against you. The motions take time but can be extremely beneficial to your case.

How does a plea bargain affect the duration of a court case?

A plea bargain removes the court case length of the trial, although there will be time required to iron out the terms of the plea agreement. Once that is settled, your court case proceedings are over.

Does the severity of the crime affect the length of court proceedings?

Absolutely. The more evidence there is, the more time is required to assess the strength of that evidence and witness testimony. It may also require expert witnesses to be brought in. For the most serious charges, there may also be a Preliminary Inquiry held, which significantly lengthens how long the matter is before the courts.

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