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Criminal Law Procedure

In British Columbia, police do not lay criminal charges. Rather, police, upon concluding an investigation, may forward a report to Crown counsel recommending charges. Crown will only approve charges if they believe there is a “substantial likelihood” of obtaining a conviction at trial. Technically, once Crown approves a charge, a police officer will swear a document called an “information” before a justice. The information is, essentially, the official charging document that sets out the specifics of the alleged offence.

The Presumption of Innocence

Notwithstanding that a person is charged with an offence, the Canadian justice system presumes that the person is innocent until such time as they are convicted, beyond a reasonable doubt, at trial or they elect to plead guilty. Typically, even though an accused person is presumed innocent, they are released by police on an appearance notice, promise to appear or summons or by a court on a bail hearing on various conditions that can be restrictive. Alternatively, in some serious cases, the court may order detention and the accused may be held in custody until their trial regardless of their innocence. Our role as defence lawyers is to ensure that our clients are treated fairly, which includes that in every case, the Crown has the ultimate burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they are guilty of the charged offence.

Disclosure

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time. This right guarantees that the Crown is obliged to provide the accused with full disclosure of the particulars that the Crown intends to put before the court in the form of witness testimony and other pieces of real evidence, such as pictures, videos, or documents. Disclosure obligations also include items such as any expert witness opinions (for example, a police accident reconstruction expert or drug trafficking expert). Typically, the Crown will provide particulars to the accused or defence counsel at the first appearance. Crown is obliged to provide any further disclosure that may come to light up to and through the trial. The law sets out that the Crown is obliged to provide all relevant information that it intends to rely on at trial and must include all relevant evidence that may tend to aid the accused in their defence.

Crown’s Right to Elect

The Criminal Code sets out that the vast majority of offences are “hybrid” offences. This means that the Crown has the right to choose how it will proceed: either by summary conviction for the less serious cases and by indictment for more serious cases. For example, on an assault causing bodily harm charge, the Crown has the option of proceeding by indictment (and seeking a sentence of up to 10 years in jail) or proceeding summarily (and seeking a sentence of up to 18 months in jail). Various factors go into the Crown’s election, including the seriousness of the allegations, any criminal history of the accused, and the need for the court to send a message that will deter others from committing similar acts. Generally, the Crown will make its election at the first court appearance after bail is determined.

Recent Successes

R. vs. A.N. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a Weapon.
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we guided our client through, whether it was in the public interest for Crown to seek a conviction on this charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to permit our client to plead to the lesser offence of common assault. After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions, the court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. J.J. - Richmond Provincial Court

Charges: Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of  the Crown being able to prove that bodily harm occurred.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to permit our client to plead to the lesser offence of common assault. After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions, the court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. S.W. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Given that the complainant had instigated the altercation, whether it was in the public interest for our client to be convicted of the offence.
Result: We were able to guide our client through a course of rehabilitation and, after hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge and placed him on a non-reporting probation order for six months. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. S.W. - Richmond Provincial Court

Charge: Refusing to comply with a testing demand.
Issue: Given the circumstances of the offence and our client, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed on the lesser Motor Vehicle Act offence of driving without due care. Rather than a criminal conviction and a minimum 12 month driving prohibition, our client was liable to pay a $350 fine and a 2 month driving prohibition. No criminal record.

R. vs. H.S. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Driving While Prohibited.
Issue: Given the circumstances of the offence and our client, whether it was necessary for Crown to proceed with the driving while prohibited charge, which carries a mandatory minimum 12 month driving prohibition.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to proceed on the lesser Motor Vehicle Act charge of driving without a driver's licence. After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions our client was sentenced to a fine and a 4 month driving prohibition.

R. vs. J.S. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault Causing Bodily Harm (domestic).
Issue: Whether the Crown could prove that bodily harm resulted and, whether the rehabilitative steps our client had taken justified the Court granting a conditional discharge.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed on the charge of common assault. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. C.M. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault; Threatening.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction in this alleged "road rage" case.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to provide information to Crown counsel on our client's behalf that led Crown to conclude there was no substantial likelihood of conviction. No charge approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. M.D. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Theft Under $5000; Uttering Threats.
Issue: Whether, given our client's circumstances and remorse, whether it was in the public interest for criminal charges to proceed.
Result: We were able to provide information to police investigators which resulted in police deciding to not forward any charges to Crown. No criminal record.

R. vs. H.L. - Richmond Provincial Court

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to provide information to the Crown on our client's behalf that persuaded Crown that the case did not meet the charge approval standard. No charge was approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. S.F. - Provincial Court of Newfoundland

Charge: Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking (Marijuana).
Issue: Whether it there was a substantial likelihood of obtaining a conviction.
Result: Upon considering Mr. Johnson's representations, Crown counsel concluded that there was no longer a likelihood of conviction. Crown withdrew the charge, bringing the matter to an end. No criminal record.

R. vs. M.B. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Application for firearms prohibition and forfeiture.
Issue: Whether Crown could establish that our client posed a risk to himself or others.
Result: Mid trial, Mr. Mines was able to obtain a successful resolution in which our client consented to an 18 month prohibition rather than the 5 years Crown had been seeking.  Further, rather than having to forfeit the  $15,000 worth of weapons that police seized,  Crown agreed to allow our client to sell them to a suitable buyer.

R. vs. C.B. - Vancouver Police Investigation

Charge: Possession of proceeds of crime.
Issue: Whether there was any lawful authority to arrest our client and seize funds from him.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade the investigating officer that there was no basis to search our client and to return the $2400 cash that he had seized. No charges approved. Not criminal record.

The Accused’s Right to Elect Mode of Trial

When the Crown elects to proceed summarily, the matter must be heard in Provincial Court. However, when the Crown elects to proceed by indictment, the Accused in all but the most serious cases including murder and treason, may elect to have their case heard by a Provincial Court Judge or by a Supreme Court Judge alone or with a jury. In every case where our client has an election, we will analyze the pros and cons of electing Provincial or Supreme Court and will provide advice to our client with respect to the defence election.

Arraignment

After obtaining full disclosure from the Crown, the court will allow the defence a reasonable amount of time to analyze the material, review it with the accused and to make a decision as to whether to plead guilty or not guilty. Depending on the complexity of the case, it may take several weeks or even months to be able to make an informed decision, having regard to the strength of the Crown’s case, any available defences and the potential of having any evidence unlawfully obtained through Charter breaches excluded from the trial. After a careful analysis and review of the evidence we will provide advice to our client and seek our client’s instructions as to whether they will plead not guilty and proceed to trial or to plead guilty and proceed to a sentencing hearing. The process in which an accused enters their plea is formally known as the Arraignment Hearing.

Plea Bargaining

In British Columbia, any negotiation of a proposed sentence is done, out of court, between Crown and defence counsel. Plea discussions are conducted “off the record” and are done on a “without prejudice” basis to the accused. Before commencing down the path of resolution based on a guilty plea, it is incumbent on defence counsel to provide the accused with advice regarding the case. In order to make an informed decision as to how to plead, the accused must understand what the essential elements of the offence are; the potential consequences of pleading guilty i.e. the range of available sentences, and that, ultimately, it is the court that has the final say in what the sentence will be.

Plea negotiation can, in some cases, result in many positive advantages to proceeding to trial. They include:

  • Crown dropping some charge(s) in return for a plea to another;
  • A plea to a lesser charge in return for the primary charge being dropped;
  • A plea to a charge in consideration of the Crown taking a more lenient position on sentence;
  • A plea to a charge on the understanding that the Crown will drop charges against other individuals.

Above all, plea bargaining offers can offer a strong measure of certainty with respect to the outcome of the case. In all cases, we will advise our clients as to the pros and cons of a negotiated resolution to their charges.

The Trial

Where it is not appropriate to resolve the matter by way of a guilty plea, we will carefully prepare ourselves and our client for trial. This process involves carefully reviewing Crown’s disclosure materials and developing strategies for conducting the trial. Various trial strategies are numerous and can be complex. These include:

  • Impeaching the credibility and/or reliability of Crown witnesses by carefully preparing and skillfully conducting effective cross examination in court;
  • Seeking to exclude incriminating evidence from the trial under a myriad of rules pertaining to the laws of evidence. These include, for example, the exclusion of third party “hearsay” statements; and the exclusion of all evidence that tends to be prejudicial to the accused rather than probative of a material issue;
  • Seeking to exclude evidence that was obtained in breach of our client’s Charter rights, such as evidence obtained through an unlawful search or a confession obtained through coercion or some other unlawful police action;
  • Seeking to establish, through argument to the court, that the Crown has failed to meet the very high burden placed on it by the criminal law – that, at the end of the day, there remains reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the charged offence.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.