Toronto Criminal Courthouses

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How Does a Criminal Trial Work?

If your case has not resolved during the CPT or JPT stages of a criminal case, a trial date will be set.  A criminal trial is a court proceeding that is designed to resolve the issue of whether or not an accused person is guilty.  A criminal trial can last several hours or several months depending on the nature and complexity of the case. It is important to recognize that the crown attorney carries the burden of proving the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.  If the crown is unable to establish one or more of the elements of the offence(s), the accused will be entitled to an acquittal. Depending on the nature of your charges, you may have the right to a preliminary inquiry and a trial in the Superior Court of Justice(jury or judge alone). Trials conducted in the Ontario Court of Justice are always judge alone.  An experienced criminal lawyer will advise you as to whether:

– The crown can likely prove its case against you beyond a reasonable doubt;
– You have a defence;
– Depending on the facts, you have the option of seeking Charter relief.  

A criminal trial begins with an arraignment.  This is a procedure in which the accused pleads “not guilty” to the charges before the Court.  The crown attorney will then call witnesses to support the allegations. The defence has the opportunity to cross-examine all crown witnesses, just as the crown has the right to cross-examine all defence witnesses.  After the evidence is heard, the judge will hear submissions from both parties. Submissions are persuasive legal arguments which incorporate evidence, statutes and case law. The crown makes submissions as to why the accused should be found guilty.  The defence makes submissions as to why the accused should be found not guilty.  If the accused is found not guilty the charges are dismissed and the case is finished.  If the accused is found guilty of one of more charges at trial the matter will proceed to sentencing.  Sentencing is often adjourned for several weeks, especially if the trial judge has ordered a “Pre-Sentence Report”.  

Trials require a considerable amount of experience and preparation is the key to success.  It is often said that for every hour of court time, the lawyer must spend several hours preparing.  This cannot be understated.  Some of the things an experienced criminal lawyer will do to prepare for your trial include:

– Prepare the cross-examination of crown witnesses;
– Conduct independent investigations to gather exculpatory evidence;
– Prepare exhibits for the defence;
– Hire and work with experts to help your case;
– Interview and prepare potential defence witnesses;
– Prepare constitutional applications in your defence;
– Prepare the defendant to take the stand in his/her defence, depending on the facts.

If your case is set down for trial, you should hire a criminal lawyer immediately.  There is absolutely no substitute to having an experienced criminal lawyer on your side during this stressful time.  It is inadvisable to represent yourself. If you have a question about a criminal trial, sentencing hearing or appeal, call our office to schedule a free consultation.  


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