What is a Criminal Trial?
While 90% of criminal cases in Canada are resolved prior to trial by way of a guilty plea, trials are still a common and critical part of our criminal justice system.
A trial is a formal court process by which a judge or jury determines your legal guilt or innocence.
If you are found guilty at trial, a sentencing hearing will then occur to determine your punishment.
Where your trial takes place and in front of whom (by judge only or by judge and jury) will depend on the nature of the charge, and the subsequent elections made by the Crown and defence.
For more information, see the general plea and election FAQ.
The Three Fundamental Principles Governing Criminal Trials
The criminal trial process is governed by three fundamental principles:
- The presumption of innocence, which means that you are innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution. In practice this means that everyone has a right to a trial if they choose to exercise that right.
- You have the right against self-incrimination. This means you do not have to speak to the police or give testimony in court. The judge or jury are not allowed to weigh the fact that you did not testify against you or infer guilt from your silence.
- The ultimate burden is on the Crown to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not necessary to prove your innocence at trial, only to show that there is a reasonable doubt as to your guilt.
Criminal Trial Process
There are three main stages in the criminal trial process:
- The Crown Prosecutors Case
The trial begins with the Crown Prosecutor presenting his or her case to the judge. This includes calling their witnesses and introducing evidence.
The Crown will attempt to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your criminal defence lawyer will then have an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses to cast doubt on the Crown’s evidence and raise a reasonable doubt as to your guilt.
- The Defence’s Case
Next, the defence has the option to call their own witnesses and evidence to support your side of the story. As the accused, you will have the opportunity to take the stand, but cannot be forced to do so.
The Crown will be provided an opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses the defence calls, including you, should you choose to testify. Like the defence, the goal of the Crown is to cast doubt on your side of the story.
- Final Arguments and Decision
Lastly, final arguments will be made by both Crown and defence. Once complete, the judge may make his or her decision immediately. Often however, the judge will require some time to decide, and will adjourn the trial until he or she is ready.
A decision may be delivered orally or in writing and will indicate a date for a sentencing hearing, if required.
Role of the Accused
One of the most important first steps as the accused is to ensure you have a dedicated, experienced defence lawyer on your side.
This will reduce both your stress and your role in the trial as your lawyer zealously advocates for you.
During a criminal trial, the accused has the option to give testimony, but does not need to. Often, your lawyer will strategically decide whether to put you on the witness stand.
If an accused person does not take the stand, the judge or jury is not allowed to draw any negative inferences from that.
Even if you do not intend to testify, the accused is almost always required to attend their trial. Therefore, you should make every effort to remember your trial date and attend as required.
Our defence team is skilled and experienced at all phases of the criminal process, including negotiating with the prosecution prior to trial, as well as providing zealous advocacy should we decide that it is in your best interest to proceed to trial.
Contact our office today so we can begin canvassing your options and moving toward the best result possible.
- Do I have to go to trial?
- What does making an “election” mean?
- What happens if I have been called to be a witness at trial?
- I have already pleaded guilty or not guilty. Can I change my plea?
- What needs to be proven before I can get convicted of an offence?