***The information provided in this article is meant to be used for informative purposes only and may, over time become outdated. To ensure accurate and up-to-date information, contact Murray Ralston Lawyers, located in Barrie and North Bay, and we would be happy to assist you.***

Often times, an accused person charged with a crime may attend court without legal representation, and encounter a whole host of terminology, phrases and documents he/she has never seen before, and has no understanding of, making an already stressful and scary situation worse. These terms and documents all have very significant meaning for your case and it is important to have some understanding of their meaning when representing yourself in court. This article provides a brief overview of the terms and documents you may come across and the different ways in which your case may be tried.

Information

The information is a sworn document setting out the charge(s) against the accused. This document may be laid by anyone by attending before a Justice of the Peace and describing the alleged criminal conduct. The informant must sign the information under oath.

Indictment

An indictment is written accusation generally signed by the Crown counsel in the name of the Queen alleging that the accused committed an offence. The indictment is the document used if the case progressed beyond the Ontario Court of Justice to trial in the Superior Court of Justice.

Count:

A count in an indictment or information is a charge, any number of which may be included in a single information or indictment.

Charge screening form:

A charge screening form is a form that the Crown fills out before or after the first appearance of the accused in assignment court. This form sets out the charges laid by the Crown and often the penalty the Crown will seek on a guilty plea or after trial (‘crown position’). The form is an indication of how seriously the Crown views the charge(s).

This form is important for legal aid purposes, as your legal aid application may be denied if the form shows that the Crown is not seeking incarceration upon conviction. The crown position is subject to change as it is based upon preliminary information. A lawyer may therefore attempt to persuade the Crown to change their position, lower the charge, or even get the charge withdrawn, depending upon the circumstances of the case.

The election (summary, indictable, hybrid) is marked on the charge screening form but is subject to change. When the prosecutor makes an election formally, it is done in court and recorded on the information.

Classification of Offences: Indictable, Summary, Hybrid

In Canada, there are 3 different ways an accused can be charged:

  1. Indictable Offence
  2. Summary Offence
  3. Hybrid Offence

When an accused is charged with an offence, the offence may be straight indictable, straight summary or hybrid (allowing the Crown prosecutor to elect one way or the other). The category that the offence falls under is important as the procedures involved vary depending on the category of the offence.

An indictable offence encompasses the most serious criminal offences, such as murder, serious sexual assault, robberies etc. The manner in dealing with these types of charges is usually much lengthier and more formal, involving a trial by judge alone or a judge and jury. There may be a preliminary inquiry prior to trial, given the seriousness and complexity of the matter, where the Crown prosecutor presents evidence against the accused and the judge determines if there is enough evidence to send the matter to trial.  These matters carry the most severe penalties upon conviction.

Summary Conviction Offences encompass less serious matters and often have smaller penalties. Matters proceeding as summary conviction offences proceed directly to trial without the benefit of a preliminary inquiry. An example of this is mischief or theft under. According to the Criminal Code, anyone convicted of a summary conviction is liable for a fine of $5000 dollars or less, and/or imprisonment up to 6 months.

Hybrid offences encompass matters that may be dealt with as either indictable or summary conviction offences, depending on what the Crown prosecutor decides with regard to which procedure is more appropriate given the circumstances of the particular case.

I still think I should talk to a Lawyer

Although being somewhat informed about the categories, documents and terms is certainly helpful, it is advisable to consult with a lawyer to ensure you truly understand the procedural intricacies involved.

*** The information above is not intended to be legal advice. Each situation is different and the information provided above may not provide you with all law applicable to your facts. To ensure you are properly protected under the law applicable to your facts, please contact Murray Ralston Law for a free consultation.