Frequently Asked Questions
What will Happen if I am Accused of Sexual Assault in Toronto?
When an allegation of sexual assault is made to police, the police will require the complainant make a formal, video tapped statement regarding the alleged incident. If the police believe a criminal offence has occurred, they will lay charges against the accused person.
Depending on the nature of the alleged assault, the police may attend the accused’s residence or place of employment without warning and place them under arrest. In other situations, the police will call the accused and request that they turn themselves in to police. Which route the police choose to take will depend on a number of factors including the criminal history of the accused, the nature of the alleged assault, whether the accused and complainant are known to one another and any other relevant factors.
If police attend the accused’s residence or place of employment, they will place the accused under arrest and transport them to the station for questioning. The police will then decide whether to release the accused or hold them for a bail hearing. Where an accused turns themselves in to police willingly, they may also be held for a bail hearing. In cases of sexual assault, there is a higher likelihood that the accused will be held for a bail hearing.
How can I be Charged without Any Evidence?
It is a common misconception that an individual cannot be convicted of sexual assault without any real physical evidence. In reality, the only evidence available in most sexual assault cases is the statement and testimony of the complainant. In many sexual assault trials, the testimony of the complainant is the only evidence available, and the only evidence presented.
When a person reports a sexual assault, they will be required to provide a videotaped statement to police. That statement will form the basis of the charge(s). At trial, the complainant will then be required to testify regarding the alleged assault. Defence counsel will be provided an opportunity to cross-examine the complainant on their statement and ask questions about any inconsistencies. If the testimony of the complainant is believed by the judge and/or jury, that evidence will be enough to convict the accused.
It is not necessary for there to be additional physical evidence such as DNA or and additional witness testimony. Due to the nature of sexual assaults, there is rarely other people around who actually witnessed the event.
What happens at a Sexual Assault Trial in Toronto?
At a trial for sexual assault, the Crown bears the burden of proving the accused is guilty of the offence they have been charged with. The Crown must prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high standard.
The Crown begins by presenting their case. This is done by calling witnesses to testify before the Court. The Crown will call its first witness to the stand and ask them questions. This is known as examination in chief. In a sexual assault case, the complainant is typically the main witness.
After the Crown as completed its examination in chief of their first witness, the defence will be given an opportunity to question that witness about the evidence they just provided. This is known as cross-examination. The purpose of cross-examination is to allow the defence to point out any inconsistencies or reliability issues with the evidence provided during examination in chief.
Once the defence has finished their cross-examination of the first witness, the second Crown witness (if there is a second witness) will be called to the stand, and the process of examination in chief and cross-examination will repeat.
Once the Crown has finished with all its witnesses, the defence will be provided an opportunity to call witnesses, including the accused. The defence is not required to call any witnesses and the accused cannot be forced to testify. If the defence does call a witness, the Crown will also be given an opportunity to cross-examine that witness.
In many cases, the testimony of the complainant and/or witnesses is the only evidence presented. Once all the witnesses have finished testifying, both the Crown and defence will make final submissions to the court regarding the evidence presented, after which the trial is complete. The judge and/or jury will then decide whether the accused is guilty.
How long do Sexual Assault cases take to Complete in Toronto?
The amount of time it takes to complete a sexual assault case can vary significantly from one case to the next. Since each case is unique, the amount of time and resources it will take to prosecute or defend a particular case may be much different from case to case. In situations where the accused pleads guilty, the case will typically resolve more quickly than if the matter goes to trial. Sexual assault cases in Toronto often take a year or more, even where the accused pleads guilty.
Where the accused chooses to go to trial, the Crown has between 18 and 30 months to get the accused to trial. Where the matter proceeds in the Ontario Court of Justice, they will have 18 months to bring the accused to trial. This timeline excludes any delay caused by the accused or their counsel. Where the trial proceeds in a Superior Court, they have up to 30 months to bring the accused to trial. These timelines exclude any delay caused by the accused or their counsel.
Complainant’s Role in a Sexual Assault Trial
When an individual is sexually assaulted and report the assault to police, police will take a formal statement from the victim. The complainant’s statement will be videotaped and will become a key piece of disclosure once charges are laid against the accused. Once the police have taken the complainant’s statement and have determined there are grounds to lay charges they will arrest the accused, beginning the criminal process.
Once the police have laid charges, the complainant has minimal involvement in the criminal process leading up to trial. The complainant does not have any say in how the case proceeds, though the Crown will consult with them before accepting a plea deal. Reasonable input from the complainant will be considered, though it is not a deciding factor. Ultimately, it is the Crown who determines the trajectory of the case. The matter is not the complainant vs. the accused, it is the government vs. the accused.
If the matter goes to trial, the complainant generally will be the Crown’s main witness. They will testify at trial and the defence will be provided with an opportunity to cross-examine them. If the accused is found guilty, the Crown will consider the opinion of the complainant regarding sentence, but that will not be a determining factor. The complainant will also be given an opportunity to read a victim impact statement if the accused is found guilty. The sentencing judge will consider this statement when determining the appropriate sentence.