A trial is the last stage in the criminal process where the accused does not plead guilty. Typically, it takes at least a year for a criminal matter to get to trial. In some cases, it may be much longer.
A trial occurs when an individual is charged with a criminal offence and does not wish to plead guilty. Every individual charged with a criminal offence has the right to a trial. It is always the Crown’s burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused committed the offence(s) they have been charged with. The trial is the opportunity for the Crown to present their evidence to a judge and/or jury. The defence may also present evidence at trial but is not required to.
All criminal trials follow the same general procedure. In more complicated cases, the Crown and defence counsel may make an opening statement to the court summarizing the evidence that they expect to be presented throughout the trial. In less serious cases, opening statements are not given.
The Crown will begin their case by calling their first witness to the stand to testify. The witness will be sworn in and then the Crown will begin their examination in chief. The Crown will ask a series of questions to tell the story of what occurred during the alleged offence. Once the Crown has finished with all their questions for their first witness, the defence lawyer will have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness.
Once the defence lawyer has completed cross-examination of the first witness, the Crown may call their next witness. This process will be repeated until all the Crown’s witnesses have testified. The Crown will then rest their case.
The defence is not required to present any evidence or call any witnesses. If they have poked enough holes in the Crown’s case through cross-examination, or the Crown simply has not met their burden of proof, the accused will not be convicted, even without presenting a defence.
Who Testifies at Trial?
Determining who will testify is completely within the discretion of the lawyers running the trial. Virtually anyone can testify at a trial. Lawyers will call whichever witness is best able to provide the evidence they wish to present to the court. The witness in a case will almost always testify. The accused may choose to testify but cannot be compelled to.
How long does Trial Take?
The amount of time it will take to get to trial can vary significantly from case to case. The length of the actual trial may also differ drastically between cases. Section 11(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees anyone charged with an offence the right to be tried within a reasonable time. In the Ontario Court of Justice, accused’s must be brought to trial within 18 months of arrest. In the Superior Court of Justice, accused’s must be brought to trial within 32 months of arrest. Typically, criminal cases take a year or more to get to trial. Complicated cases may take significantly longer.