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Familiarize yourself with the judicial process

Judicial process stages

01 | The investigation

The judicial process can be quite long and complex. First, a citizen may file a complaint against another person by writing a statement. Should the police conclude this initial complaint is well-founded, they will open an investigation. Upon determining they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person has indeed committed a criminal offence, they may arrest them and submit the file to the Crown Attorney. The police may also choose to intervene without anyone filing a complaint against an individual. In some cases, criminal investigations are completed relatively quickly, while in other cases, it may take several months to complete. Following the investigation, the file is submitted to the Crown attorneys, who in turn will analyze and conclude whether or not to proceed with the charges.
The decision to proceed with a charge against an individual is left to the discretion of the Crown. The Crown prosecutors are required to follow specific guidelines before authorizing a file and deciding to proceed. The prosecutor may conclude there is insufficient evidence and drop the charges before the first court appearance.

02 | If charges are laid

Once charges are laid against an individual, the first step in court is the appearance. This procedure involves entering a plea. It is important to always plead not guilty during the initial court appearance and to obtain the disclosure of evidence held against the accused. Once the evidence has been assessed, the defence attorney will be able to guide the accused in making an informed decision about the outcome of the file. Therefore, it is highly recommended during the first appearance to postpone the file to a later court date, a procedure known as pro forma, in order to seek counsel.
During this time, between the appearance and the pro forma date, a defence attorney will be able to review the evidence and guide the accused. The attorney’s job is first and foremost to find weaknesses in the Crown’s case.
If the charge is laid by indictable offense, there is an opportunity for a preliminary inquiry to assess the strength of the evidence. Once the judge decides there is enough evidence, a trial date may be set. This procedure is not possible if the charge is one taken by summary conviction, which usually includes less serious offenses.
Following the disclosure of the evidence, the accused may decide to set the file for trial, if he denies the facts of the case or if there is a weakness in the Crown’s evidence. The accused may alternatively choose to plead guilty by admitting the facts and evidence against him. If his choice is to stand trial, the burden of proof rests with the Crown. In other words, the Crown Prosecutor must prove every essential element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, in order to obtain an acquittal, the defence must be able to raise a doubt in the mind of the judge or jury as to the guilt of the accused. If there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge or jury, the court will pronounce a guilty verdict.

03 | Guilty plea or verdict

If the accused is found guilty following a trial or pleads guilty before trial, the final step is sentencing. The parties will present their arguments for an appropriate sentence, depending on the circumstances of the offense and the characteristics of the accused. Several criteria must be taken into consideration, including the criminal record of the accused, the seriousness of the offense, the accused’s involvement in the crime, his rehabilitation, his social profile, etc. The sentence may be a joint submission between the parties if they reach an agreement following negotiations. Alternatively, the defence and the prosecutor will submit to the court their respective arguments during a sentencing hearing. In both cases, the judge has the final word on the sentence.

Why inquire about the judicial process with a criminal lawyer?

Given the complex nature of the judicial process and the consequences of a conviction, hiring a criminal lawyer is highly recommended before going through criminal proceedings. It is our job to make sure your interests are rightly represented!

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