What Happens at the Trial

There are two types of criminal offences. Summary conviction offences are less serious offences. Indictable offences are more serious.

If the accused is charged with a summary conviction offence, he or she will appear before a Provincial Court judge for a trial. The maximum penalty for this type of offence is usually a $5,000 fine, six months in jail, or both.

If the accused is charged with an indictable offence, he or she may choose to be tried by a Provincial Court judge, or by a Supreme Court judge with or without a jury. If the trial will be in Supreme Court, there will be a preliminary inquiry before the trial. A preliminary inquiry is a court hearing where a judge reviews the case to decide if there is enough evidence for a trial. If the judge decides there is not enough evidence, the case will be dismissed. Otherwise, a trial date will be set in Supreme Court. You can read about Provincial Court and Supreme Court here.

The trial procedure

Whether the trial is in Provincial Court or Supreme Court, the Crown prosecutor and the accused’s lawyer present evidence about the case. The judge wants to hear evidence about the crime and listen to witnesses who saw the crime.

At the trial, the Crown prosecutor presents their case first. They will call witnesses and present evidence to try to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused is guilty of the offence. The accused’s lawyer will get to cross examine the crown’s witnesses to find out if they are telling the truth about the crime. Next, the accused’s lawyer will present the accused’s case.

The judge or jury will then decide whether the Crown prosecutor has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. If the accused is found not guilty, then he or she is free to go and it is as if they were never charged with a crime.

Here are the steps in every criminal trial:

  • The case is called.
  • The trial begins.
  • An exclusion order can be made (this sends all the witnesses out of the courtroom so they don’t hear each other’s evidence).
  • The Crown prosecutor presents his or her case.
  • The accused (or the lawyer) cross examines the Crown witnesses.
  • The accused (or the lawyer) presents his or her case.
  • The Crown prosecutor cross examines the accused’s witnesses.
  • The prosecutor and the accused sum up their positions.
  • The judge or jury makes a decision.
  • If the judge or jury decides the accused is not guilty, he or she is free to go. If the judge or jury decides the accused is guilty, he or she will be “convicted” and the judge will sentence the guilty person (decide on a punishment). Before the judge decides on a sentence, the accused has a chance to tell the judge things about himself or herself. The judge also wants to know what the victim says about how the crime affected his or her life.

The Crown prosecutor must show that:

  • The right person was charged with the crime
  • All parts of the crime actually happened
  • The accused intended to commit the crime

The judge will decide if the accused is guilty only if he or she is sure the accused committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means the judge must be almost certain that the accused committed the crime. The accused does not have to prove that he or she is innocent.

The accused or the Crown prosecutor can appeal the judge’s decision on guilt or innocence. Either party can also appeal the sentence.

Justice Education Society Citizenship and Immigration Canada Welcome BC City of Vancouver