Area of Law: Criminal Law
Answer # 759
The criminal trial processRegion: Ontario Answer # 759
Criminal trials in Ontario are held in either the lower Provincial Court or in the Superior Court of Justice, depending on the specific offence a person has been charged with. Generally, however, the more serious offences are held in the Superior Court of Justice before a judge or a judge and a jury, and the less serious offences are held in the Ontario Court of Justice before a judge only. If your trial is being held in the Superior Court of Justice, you will likely have a preliminary hearing before your trial to determine whether there is enough evidence against you to hold a formal trial.
At trial, the Crown prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged with an offence is guilty. If there is any reasonable doubt about whether the person is guilty, they must be acquitted.
What happens at the beginning of a trial
A trial begins with the charges being read out loud to the court, which in law is called an arraignment. After the charges are read, the person charged will be asked to enter a plea, which means to declare whether you are guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you are not denying that you committed the offence. Pleading not guilty means that the Crown prosecutor must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If you intend to plead guilty, make sure you seek legal advice first so you fully understand the possible consequences. It is possible in some circumstances to plead guilty to a lessor or included offence as well.
Role of the Crown prosecutor
At trial, the Crown prosecutor and the defence lawyer will each have a chance to present their case. To prove that you are guilty, the Crown prosecutor must present evidence to the court. This evidence could be physical evidence, such as a gun with your fingerprints on it, or witness testimony, such as a person who testifies that they saw you running from the scene. The Crown is entitled to rely on direct evidence and/or circumstantial evidence.
The Crown prosecutor will be the first to present their case and call their witnesses. When the Crown prosecutor has finished questioning each witness, the defence lawyer can cross-examine them. This means that the defence lawyer can ask the witness more questions, usually in an attempt to find flaws with what the witness said. The prosecutor can re-examine the witness in some circumstances to clarify new issues brought up in cross-examination.
If the Crown prosecutor does not present enough evidence to prove that you are guilty, your defence lawyer can ask the judge to dismiss the charges. If the judge dismisses the charges, your lawyer will not need to present evidence in your defence, and you will be free to leave.
Role of the defence lawyer
If the Crown prosecutor does present enough evidence to potentially prove that you are guilty, your defence lawyer may need to present other evidence to defend the charges against you. In some cases, no evidence will be called by the defence because the Crown’s case is so weak. Any witness your lawyer calls can be cross-examined by the Crown prosecutor, which means that the prosecutor can ask the witness more questions in an attempt to find flaws with their testimony.
You do not have to testify at your trial. If you do choose to testify, you should remember that you may also be cross-examined by the prosecutor, who may force you to answer uncomfortable questions. Your lawyer, however, is there to ensure that the prosecutor does not ask you irrelevant or objectionable questions.
Sentencing submissions to judge
Once both sides have presented all their evidence and all the witnesses have testified, each side will be allowed to make submissions to the court. A submission is just a summary of each side’s case and may include arguments on the law. The judge, or the judge and the jury, will then decide whether the person charged is guilty or not guilty. If you are found guilty, you may be sentenced to a penalty immediately, or at a later date depending on the circumstances of your case. If you are on bail, the bail may be cancelled when you are found guilty, even before you are sentenced.
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