Steps to Take in Preparing for Your Criminal Trial

For most people charged with a first-time criminal offence, going to court can feel like a foreign experience, with unfamiliar protocols and confusing terminology. That’s why, if you’re facing a criminal trial in the Toronto area, we strongly urge you to hire a skilled criminal defence lawyer who can help you navigate the complexities of the criminal trial process and strategize a defence designed to produce the most favourable outcome possible.

The importance of securing expert legal advice rises with the seriousness of the crime with which you are being charged, along with the severity of the penalties associated with this crime. However, should you wish to forgo the services of an expert criminal lawyer, it’s essential to know how to best prepare for your criminal trial on your own.

The Basic Premise

Before preparing for your trial, understand that you do not have to prove your innocence – the Crown must instead prove your guilt.

This premise entering trial will give you an edge in your proceedings, as the threshold for proving guilt is high. Additionally, you can also win your case by proving your innocence.

When establishing guilt, prosecutors must prove that you not only committed the criminal act, but that you did so with intent or knowledge – and, they must prove these two elements “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Understand How Your Case Will Likely Proceed to Trial

Anyone facing a contested bail hearing should seek out legal advice, as it’s much more difficult to strategize your defence once you’ve been incarcerated pre-trial. In addition, there are a number of pre-trial proceedings and activities that you must be aware of, including:

  • First Appearance: an administrative procedure the court uses to establish how the case will proceed to trial.
  • Diversion: for less serious criminal offences, Ontario courts will stay or withdraw the charges if you agree to take proactive measures – community service, counselling, charitable donation, etc. – to remedy the offence. In many cases, the court notifies the defendant during their first appearance that they might be eligible for diversion. If not, you must petition the Crown to consider your case for possible diversion.
  • Disclosure: Crown prosecutors must provide defendants with evidence and a narrative about how the alleged offence occurred. Disclosure is often provided during the first appearance; request it if not freely offered. If you do not receive timely disclosure from the Crown, you can ask the court to delay your trial to give you time to assess the evidence against you.
  • Crown Pre-Trial: these meetings are held between Crown prosecutors and the defence to discuss case merits and negotiate possible pre-trial settlement outcomes. However, these meetings are typically only held between Crown prosecutors and the defendant’s lawyer, especially if the charges are serious. The Crown may agree to have a limited conversation with you about your case, but it will likely be one-sided and may or may not include a settlement offer.
  • Judicial Pre-Trial: these judge-mediated meetings are held when Crown pre-trial efforts fail to come up with a resolution. Your ability to participate in a judicial pre-trial without a lawyer is even more limited than with a Crown pre-trial.

Prepare for Your Trial with Extensive Research

In order to succeed in court, you must understand the charges against you, criminal law, effective defences, and criminal court procedures. Even if you’ve decided to defend yourself without a lawyer, we strongly urge you to take advantage of all legal assistance from the duty counsel (free legal services provided by the court). Begin talking with duty counsel as soon as possible, preferably before the first hearing. Additionally, pick up and study all standardized forms on court procedure that are available at the courthouse registry office.

Two online resources that can also help guide your trial preparation efforts include Steps to Justice and Criminal Code Help. Steps to Justice is an informative primer on Ontario criminal court proceedings, while Criminal Code Help provides detailed information on all elements of a criminal trial.

In order to understand exactly what you’ve been charged with, look up the offence in Canada’s Criminal Code. For example, if you’re accused of assault on a police officer, go to Section 270(1). Consider the language of the law and contrast it with the narrative of the alleged assault. Do the two match, and what elements of the report don’t fit in with the language of the law? While conducting your research, always consider the information you’re learning in context with the alleged offence.

If you believe that police made procedural errors or violated your rights before, during, or after your arrest, study the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as mounting a successful Charter Rights challenge in court could weaken the Crown’s case, and even lead to dismissed charges.

Study the Disclosure Materials

Crown-provided disclosure materials offer insight into how the Crown believes you committed the alleged offence and what evidence they plan to introduce to support their narrative. A skilled defence lawyer assesses the materials to uncover flaws and weaknesses and determine how it differs from your own account of the incident. They then develop a defence strategy to challenge the Crown’s narrative and weaken the evidence.

Study the disclosure materials closely. Does it seem complete? For example, if the narrative references a video feed of the incident, was it included? Or, if it mentions a weapon, is it carefully described, or is there a photograph of it? If anything seems missing, you can—and should—request additional disclosure from the Crown. This may require a petition to the court, which duty counsel can help you with.

If disclosure seems complete, think like a lawyer by strategizing how you might be able to counteract elements of the narrative you don’t believe happened. Also, consider the evidence and determine whether there are any ways you can refute it.

Based on disclosure, consider what evidence you can introduce. Do you have witnesses that can support your version of events? If so, make sure they will appear in court on your behalf by securing a subpoena from the court to compel them to attend the trial as a witness. Again, your duty counsel can help with this.

Understand the Basic Elements of the Trial

While every criminal trial differs, the crux of most revolves around the following:

  • The Crown’s rendition of how the alleged crime occurred
  • Your rendition of the alleged offence
  • Physical evidence presented by the Crown
  • Testimony provided by Crown Witnesses
  • Your own physical evidence and any supporting witnesses
  • Cross-examination of witnesses

Learn how the court conducts the introduction and dispossession of these elements during the trial by studying the previously referenced research materials and talking to duty counsel. The more you know going into the trial, the better prepared you will be to address these elements as they come into play. If something arises during the trial that confuses you, don’t hesitate to ask the judge to explain what’s going on: while the judge cannot give you any legal advice, they can help you understand the court process or any underlying legal issues in play.

Lastly, present yourself in court in a professional and well-groomed manner, and address your judge and court officials with respect. Your attire and attitude in court will not make or break the case, however, a poor attitude certainly won’t make a positive impression on those who might be responsible for your legal outcome.

By |2023-09-07T11:09:58+00:00September 6th, 2023|Criminal Defence|

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Criminal Lawyers Association
Toronnto Lawyers Association
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Criminal Lawyers Association
Toronnto Lawyers Association
Law Society of Ontario
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