What are the key steps in a criminal trial?

The criminal process takes an accused person from a police investigation through to the resolution of their matter. The following are the key steps which take place:

  • Investigation
    • The investigation is simply when the police do the legwork to determine if a crime has been committed and by whom. This stage involves the police conducting interviews with witnesses, processing crime scenes, and applying for and executing search warrants.
  • Arrest
    • An arrest is the formal process of the police detaining and arresting an accused for the purpose of laying a charge. Upon arrest, the police must caution you of your rights (namely your right to remain silent and the right to speak to and retain legal counsel upon detention) Further the police must inform you of the charges you are While arrested, in addition to your rights to silence and counsel, you are also entitled to be treated in a dignified way.
  • Release
    • After arrest individuals are either released on an undertaking or held for bail. An undertaking is a document with conditions that you must agree to so that you can be released from If you aren’t released with an undertaking, the other alternative is a bail hearing which must occur within three days of your arrest. Section 11(e) of the Charter guarantees your right to reasonable bail. Reasonable bail, means reasonable in the circumstances and is dependent on several factors.
  • First Appearance in Court
    • The first appearance in court is not your trial date. It’s the event where you find out about the case against you. The Court will ask if you would like the charges against you to be read for clarity, and will ask whether you elect for your matter to proceed in either English or French.
    • During the first appearance, the court will ask if you have a lawyer to represent you and whether you’ve been given disclosure (see below) by the Crown. At the end of this appearance the Court will provide you with a next court date and steps which you and the Crown must accomplish before that time.
    • It is possible for a lawyer (if you retained one) to go on your behalf for a first If you do not have a lawyer, then you need to appear in Court yourself.
  • Disclosure
    • There are no trials by ambush in Canadian criminal law. There aren’t any surprise witnesses before the closing statements or misplaced DNA samples that make an unexpected appearance. Disclosure is the process of the Crown telling you their entire case against you well before the trial. Disclosure includes any evidence the Crown plans to use against you (lists of witnesses, video evidence, transcripts of police interviews, police notes, results from DNA tests etc.) also as well as evidence that may harm the Crown’s case (this is called exculpatory evidence).
    • Your disclosure may also include information about the police officers who arrested and investigated you, as well as information about any witnesses’ misconduct . If you have a lawyer, then he or she will then look through your disclosure, searching for potential avenues to build a defence, and apply to exclude any evidence that violated your Charter
  • Crown Pretrial
    • The Crown pretrial is a meeting between your defence attorney and the Crown attorney (prosecutor). During this meeting, the defence and the Crown will discuss potential avenues of resolution, should you decide to enter into a plea or trial
  • Judicial Pretrial
    • The judicial pretrial is another meeting, similar to the Crown pretrial, but this time in a judge’s presence. During a judicial pretrial, your defence lawyer may be able to gain the input of an impartial judge in understanding your position, and the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
  • Resolution or Trial
    • The trial is the key element of the criminal process. If you choose to plead “not guilty”, then your trial is where the prosecution will attempt to make the case that you committed the crime you were charged with beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s also another opportunity for your defence lawyer to argue on your behalf that you are not To avoid prejudice, the trial judge will be a different judge than the one who ran the judicial pre-trial.
  • Sentencing
    • If you’ve been found guilty of an offence, the next stage is the sentencing hearing. During this hearing, a judge will consider a number of factors, including the severity of your crime, your previous criminal history, and the chances of your rehabilitation when determining your sentence. In addition, the judge will also consider the principles of sentencing (as outlined in section 718 of the Criminal Code) and weigh aggravating factors (factors that make the offence worse) and mitigating factors (factors that reduce your blameworthiness) and adhere to the relevant and binding case-law. The sentencing hearing is another opportunity for your defence to bolster your character and help reduce your sentence.

How long does it take for a criminal case to reach trial?

Section 11(b) of the Charter guarantees your right to a trial within a reasonable time. In R v Jordan, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the presumptive reasonable time for a trial is 18 months if the trial is in a provincial court and 30 months if your case is tried in a superior court. These durations are without any consideration of delay caused by the defence and exceptional circumstances.

In cases that exceed these time limits, the onus will be on the Crown to demonstrate why the amount of time taken was in fact reasonable.

Lakin Afolabi LPC blog material is screened for authenticity as of the date of posting and accurately reflects the law to the best of our knowledge. Because the nature of the legal landscape is ever-changing we do not guarantee the future accuracy or completeness of this blog material past the date of posting. This material is not a replacement for advice received from our team of legal professionals. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk.