There are two types of criminal offences in Canada, each with its own procedural phases: summary conviction offences and indictable offences. Most offences are dual procedure, or hybrid. This means that the Crown Attorney can elect to prosecute either by way of summary conviction or by indictment.
Summary Conviction Offences
These offences generally carry a sentence up to a maximum of six months imprisonment, with some exceptions. There are two procedural phases: pre-trial and trial, and an experienced Criminal Defence Lawyer can employ different strategies applicable to each phase.
The pre-trial phase consists of three procedural steps:
1) Obtaining complete disclosure of all the evidence from the Crown Attorney;
2) a Crown Pre-Trial meeting; and
3) a Judicial Pre-Trial.
When facing charges in the Toronto Courts, initial disclosure provided during the first or second court appearance is, in most cases, incomplete. A Criminal Defence Lawyer will carefully review all disclosure and make a second or third request for additional materials which appear to be missing from the disclosure package. These additional materials almost always turn out to be helpful to the client’s case. Once complete disclosure has been obtained, the Criminal Defence Lawyer will review the materials with the client before proceeding to the next step.
In Toronto, a Criminal Defence Lawyer will schedule a pre-trial meeting with the Crown Attorney. An effective strategy for the Criminal Defence Lawyer is to fully canvass all the issues and identify any weaknesses in the Crown’s case. In some cases, the Crown would then consider reducing or withdrawing the charges.
A Judicial Pre-Trial is a meeting conducted before a Judge with both the Crown Attorney and the Criminal Defence Lawyer present and, in Toronto, can be scheduled in most cases. An effective strategy for an experienced Criminal Defence Lawyer is to take this opportunity to again argue any weaknesses in the Crown’s case and encourage the Judge to confront the Crown for the purpose of reviewing whether the charges should be reduced or withdrawn. As well, the Crown may indicate a sentencing position on an early guilty plea and this would also be discussed with the Judge. Once the issues have been narrowed down, and if a trial is to proceed, then there is a discussion of how many witnesses are expected to be called and how long the trial is likely to be.
Once the pre-trial phase is completed, the Criminal Defence Lawyer will discuss trial strategies with the client and obtain instructions to set a trial date. In Toronto, the trial would be conducted in one of the five courthouses of the Ontario Court of Justice.
These are the more serious offences, which can carry a maximum sentence from two years to life imprisonment. Most indictable offences provide the opportunity for the Criminal Defence Lawyer to elect to have a preliminary hearing before a Judge in the Ontario Court of Justice, which is conducted after the pre-trial phase and before the trial phase. In Toronto, there are five Ontario Court of Justice courthouses where criminal cases are heard: Old City Hall, College Park, Scarborough Court and two in North York. Similar to a trial, the Crown calls its witnesses and the Criminal Defence Lawyer has the opportunity to cross-examine each witness. There is no plea of guilty or not guilty, and there is no finding of guilty or not guilty. Instead, the Judge must decide whether there is sufficient evidence to go to trial in the Superior Court of Justice, located in downtown Toronto on University Avenue, which only deals with indictable offences.
This is a good opportunity for an experienced Criminal Defence Lawyer to test the Crown’s evidence and expose the weaknesses in the Crown’s case. If the Judge decides that there is insufficient evidence for a trial, then the charges are dismissed and the client is free to go. If a trial is to proceed, then the evidence given by the witnesses during their examination and cross-examination at the preliminary hearing can be used against them at trial by the Criminal Defence Lawyer.
To effectively represent a client facing criminal charges in Toronto, an experienced Criminal Defence Lawyer will take advantage of all of these opportunities to successfully dispose of the charges throughout all phases of the case.