Due to its many appearances in entertainment and the media, the trial is the criminal law proceeding that is best known to members of the public. Summarized in simple terms, at a criminal trial evidence will be presented, witnesses will be questioned, and oral arguments will be made. However, this simplicity is complicated by rules of criminal procedure and evidence that are very difficult to understand if you are not a trained lawyer.
A criminal trial draws on the full range of a lawyer’s knowledge and skills. Before trial, they use their knowledge of the law and their research skills to craft a strategy for attacking the Crown’s case. At trial, they use their knowledge of human behaviour and the law of evidence, their skill at persuasive public speaking, and their intuition to make arguments that will benefit their clients. Oftentimes, something may occur at trial which can totally change the trajectory of a case, and a skilled criminal defence lawyer must be prepared enough to adapt their approach to suit any new circumstances that may arise. For many lawyers, trial litigation is viewed as both the most challenging and fulfilling part of their practice, and we devote years of time and effort to be the best trial lawyers we can be. If you have been charged with a crime, and you are headed for trial, it is of the utmost importance that you obtain the services of an experienced criminal defence lawyer to defend you.
What happens at a criminal trial?
As mentioned above, at a criminal trial evidence is presented, witnesses are questioned, and oral arguments are made. There are two types of criminal trials in Canada: by jury or by judge alone.
In terms of an overview of how the process of a judge alone trial occurs procedurally, a standard trial will usually begin with the lawyer from each side making requests for any initial orders from the judge. These may include a publication ban, or the exclusion of witnesses from the courtroom. Once any orders are granted, the parties are invited to make an opening statement, with the Crown speaking first. In most cases, opening statements are not needed, but either party may choose to present one. When the opening statements have concluded, the parties will then begin to present evidence, most commonly in the form of calling witnesses to the stand to testify. Again, the Crown presents its case first, and the defence responds. When each side has presented all of their evidence, each party is invited to make a closing statement. The judge will then return to their chambers to consider their verdict. This can occur in a matter of minutes or hours, but can also take weeks or months. This depends on the complexity of the case and the approach taken by the individual judge.
In a jury trial, the process is very similar, except there are added procedural steps before and at the end of trial. Before a jury trial begins, a jury selection hearing occurs. At the hearing, a group of prospective jurors will appear and be questioned, with each side assessing whether the person is suitable to serve on the jury for the case at hand. In Canada, juries are composed of 12 people. Once 12 suitable people have been found, the trial may begin. After closing statements have finished, the 12 jurors will begin their deliberations. The length of time their deliberations take is completely unpredictable. Since guilty or not guilty verdicts must be unanimous, deliberations often take a considerable amount of time.
Unlike with a judge alone trial, juries do not produce written explanations for the decision they reach. In Canada, information regarding the content of jury deliberations is protected by a veil of secrecy. As a result, jury verdicts can be difficult to appeal, as the reasons for the decision must be determined using the factual findings implied by the verdict and the evidence the jury heard.
What determines the type of trial that I have?
The first step in determining what type of trial you will have is the Crown’s election, if you have been charged with a hybrid offence. If the Crown elects to proceed by way of indictment, that will trigger an accused’s right to decide whether they wish to be tried by a judge alone or by a jury of their peers.
There are two major exceptions to the above rule regarding an accused’s ability to determine the way in which they are tried. The first is the offences in section 553 of the Criminal Code, which must remain in provincial court, and therefore cannot be tried by a jury in Superior Court. These offences include theft under $5000. If you are charged with one of 553 offences, then you will be heard by judge alone in provincial court, no matter how the Crown elects. The other major exception are the offences from section 469 of the Criminal Code. 469 offences are the most serious crimes in the Code, and they include murder, treason and terrorism offences. If you are charged with one of these offences, your case must be tried by jury, and you have no option to be tried by a judge alone.
What verdicts are possible after a criminal trial?
The judge must return a verdict of either guilty or not guilty unless the Crown prosecutor chooses to withdraw the charges. The judge or Crown prosecutor may also choose to stay the charges.
If you have been charged with multiple counts, the judge may choose to find you guilty of some counts, but not others. A judge may also decide to find you guilty of an offence you have not initially been charged with, if there is a lesser included offence available. For example, if you have been charged with sexual assault, but the requirements of that offence are not proven, and the requirements for the lesser charge of assault are, you may be found guilty of assault.
If you are found not guilty, that ends your case, except if the Crown chooses to appeal the decision. Any conditions of release that you were subject to while the case is active also no longer exist, so you do not need to worry about failing to comply.
If you are found guilty, the case will proceed to sentencing.
The practical effect of a stay is similar to a finding of not guilty, except in very particular circumstances. In theory, the Crown may resurrect the stayed charges, but this is rare (the Crown needs something significant to happen after the stay has been granted). A criminal stay should not be confused with a stay of immigration proceedings, where it acts more like a delay than a resolution of a matter.
If you have been charged with an offence, please contact DUVADIE Law at (613) 422-1155 or Toll-Free at 1-855-422-1155 as soon as possible so that we can begin working on your behalf
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