The purpose of a trial is to have a judge or jury determine your legal guilt or innocence.
The trial process is governed by three fundamental principles:
- The presumption of innocence ensures that you are innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution. In practice this means that everyone has a right to a trial if they want one.
- You have the right against self-incrimination. This means you do not have to speak to the police or give testimony in court. The judge or jury are not allowed to weigh the fact that you did not testify against you.
- The ultimate burden is on the crown to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not necessary to prove your innocence at trial, only that you are not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
A trial will begin with the Crown prosecutor presenting his or her case to the judge. This includes calling all the Crown’s witnesses and introducing evidence. The Crown will attempt to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your criminal defence lawyer will then have an opportunity to cross examine witnesses to cast doubts about on the Crown’s evidence.
The Defence then has the option to call their own witnesses and evidence. This will typically include calling your witnesses and you to tell your story of what happened, but that possibility will be discussed with you before anything like that will occur. The Crown will get an opportunity to cross examine any witnesses the Defence calls, including you.
Final arguments are made by both the Crown and the defence lawyer, at which point the judge may make his or her decision immediately. Often however, the judge will require some time to make his or her decision, and will adjourn the trial until he or she is ready. A decision may be spoken by a judge or given by writing.
Role of the Accused
An accused person has the option to give testimony, but does not need to. Often your lawyer will make the decision whether to put you on the witness stand or not depending on the strategic advantage. If an accused person does not take the stand, the judge or jury is not allowed to draw any negative inferences from that. An accused person will almost always be required to attend their trial so make sure you make every effort to remember your trial date.