According to the Canadian Criminal Code, once the defence receives your disclosure, and takes its time to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your criminal case, the next step is to enter elections and pleas in front of the court. In general, criminal offences can be classified into three levels of seriousness in Canada, including summary conviction offences, hybrid offences, and indictable offences.
A summary conviction felony usually includes less serious allegations and also results in less severe punishments. This type of felony can only be heard before a Provincial Court Judge. A hybrid offence charge is prosecuted through summary conviction or indictment. An indictable offence is a significantly severe type of criminal offence resulting in increasingly serious penalties.
Canadian criminal trials consist of two types of elections; the Defence election and the Crown Prosecutors election. When you get charged with a hybrid offence, and the Crown Prosecutor elects to proceed by way of an indictment; in that case, they can either choose to proceed summarily or seek prison time in the event of a successful conviction.
In case the Crown proceeds with summary conviction, your criminal case will be heard in front of the provincial court, and you won’t have an election. In case the Crown proceeds with an indictment, the defence can make an election. This means that the defence will be able to choose whether they want their matter to be heard before the provincial court or superior court/Queens bench.
If the defence chooses to have their trial heard in front of the supreme court, then they can also decide whether their hearing would be done in front of both a judge and a jury or a judge alone. The majority of criminal cases end up being heard at the provincial court level. Electing Queens bench court is mainly due to some strategic reasons and is usually reserved for increasingly severe criminal offences.
After making an election, you’ll be provided with the option of either pleading guilty or not guilty. Pleading guilty or not guilty depends on several factors. When you decide to plead guilty, your matter will then get arranged to a disposition courtroom. When you choose to plead not guilty, your trial will get organised.
Deciding whether it would be more advantageous to proceed to a trial with both a judge and a jury or a judge alone will mainly depend on the unique circumstances related to your criminal case. For example, the defence may deem it favourable to proceed with a judge alone where the final verdict may depend on highly technical factors related to law that may be hard to understand for people without a legal background.
On the other hand, involving a jury in a trial comes with its own set of benefits. Electing a jury may result in avoiding the same individual biases that a judge may have against the accused. Also, the prosecutor will have to work harder to convince a jury composed of 12 members about the accused’s guilt instead of only having to convince a judge.
The final decision about whether it’s more beneficial to proceed with a judge alone or a combination of both a judge and a jury in your case should always be made in consultation with your criminal defence lawyer.