What to Expect When You’re Facing Criminal Charges in Canada

Navigating the criminal justice system can be daunting, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the criminal process and the implications of being charged. This guide breaks down some of the essentials you need to know to understand the legal landscape and make informed decisions.

Types of Criminal Offences

  • Summary Conviction Offences: These are the least serious types of crimes, such as minor theft or causing a disturbance. The penalties are generally lighter and the process less complex.
  • Indictable Offences: Reserved for more serious crimes like robbery or serious assaults, these offences carry heavier penalties and a more formal court procedure.
  • Hybrid Offences: These can be treated as either summary or indictable based on the severity of the situation and the discretion of the Crown attorney. This flexibility allows the legal system to adapt the punishment to fit the crime more appropriately.

Choosing the Court

  • Provincial Court: This is where all criminal cases begin. Saskatchewan Provincial Courts are an example. The Provincial Courts, inferior courts or lower courts in other provinces go by different names but serve the same function. 
  • Superior Court: For more serious matters or if chosen (elected) by the accused under certain conditions, the case can move to this higher court, which handles more severe offences and offers the option of a jury trial. The Court of King’s Bench in Saskatchewan and Superior Courts in other provinces (which, again, sometimes go by different names) are examples. 

Pre-Trial Procedures

Preliminary Hearings

Before the trial, for more serious indictable offences, you can opt for a preliminary hearing in provincial court to challenge the evidence before it goes to trial. This step can be waived if you choose. The Crown must establish that “some” evidence exists on every element of the offence at the Preliminary Hearing. This is a low bar and is usually easily achieved. 

Electing the Type of Trial

  • Superior Court Election: Once your case moves to Superior Court, you can choose to be tried by a judge alone or by a combination of judge and jury.
  • Jury Trial: It’s your constitutional right to have a jury trial if the offence can result in imprisonment for five years or more, except in certain cases like military offences.

Special Cases in Criminal Law

Absolute Jurisdiction and Section 553

Certain lesser but specific crimes listed under Section 553 of the Criminal Code are exclusively handled by the Provincial Court, regardless of how they are prosecuted.

Section 469 Offences

The most severe crimes, such as murder or treason, fall under Section 469. These require a jury trial unless there is a rare agreement to proceed without one.

Trial Decisions

Electing Jury vs. Judge Alone

Choosing between a jury trial and a judge-alone trial is significant. A jury can bring community perspective, while a judge may focus more on legal intricacies. In principle, a judge and a jury serve the exact same purpose. Where a jury is selected, the jury acts as the judge on the evidence presented at trial. 

Jury Selection Process

Choosing a Jury

The selection process aims to form an unbiased jury from a diverse pool drawn from the community. This process includes eliminating potential jurors for biases or preconceptions that might affect impartiality, ensuring a fair trial.

Making Informed Decisions

Each step and decision in the legal process can significantly impact the outcome of your case. Discussing your options with a criminal defence lawyer is crucial to navigating the system effectively and ensuring that you receive the best possible defence.

Comments are closed.