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Criminal Law Dictionary

Accused: The person being charged with or accused of a criminal offence. The accused is named in an Information filed by police.

Acquit (or Acquittal): When a Judge or Court sets an accused free from a criminal charge. This occurs when an accused is not found guilty of an offence.

Adjourn: To pick a new Court date or set a legal proceeding over to a new Court date. Lawyers will seek adjournments for a variety of reasons, including missing disclosure, unavailability of witnesses or other reasons. Court may grant or deny adjournment requests.

Appeal or Appeal Court: A request made by the accused to have a higher court (an “Appeal Court”) review the findings of a lower Court. The Court typically reviews finding on questions of law and on questions of fact. The Appeal Court will often review whether the lower Court correctly interpreted and applied the law. Appeal Courts are normally styled “Court of Appeal” or “Cour d’Appel”.

Charges:
The allegations being made against the accused with particular reference to the section of the Criminal Code or Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Charter Application: A hearing to determine certain issues raised under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (For instance, whether a search of motor vehicle by a police officer was legally valid under the Charter of Rights). A lawyer must file a notice or document telling the Court what issues will be raised and the Charter application. See the Your Rights for more details on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Complainant: The Individual making the allegation against a person accused of a criminal offence. This person is often the alleged victim of the offence. For instance, the victim of an assault would be the complainant in an assault case.

Conviction: Where a finding of guilt is made by a Court against an accused a conviction is usually entered. A conviction forms part of the accused’s criminal record.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (or “CDSA” for short): The CDSA is federal legislation governing the possession and/or movement of controlled substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs. The CDSA is primarily criminal legislation and a conviction under the CDSA will usually form part of an accused’s criminal record.

Criminal Code: Most criminal offences in Canada fall under federal legislation referred to as the criminal code. A conviction under the criminal code will usually form part of an Accused’s criminal record.

Crown Prosecutor: The crown Prosecutor’s office prosecutes or advances the charges against the accused. In Canada, the charges are laid in the name of Her Majesty the Queen and a government appointed prosecutor advances the case against the accused.

Defence Lawyer (or Defence Counsel): The lawyer who represents the accused in a criminal matter. Contact Canada Criminal Lawyer for an immediate free consultation.  

Designation of Counsel:
A signed document, authorized by the criminal code, permitting a particular lawyer to appear without the presence of the accused for certain criminal charges before a certain Court. A designation is typically required when an accused is not present in Court for an indictable matter.

Disclosure: Officer’s notes, police reports, video, witness statements and other material which may be relevant to the case against the accused. The accused has a right of full disclosure of relevant details under the Charter.

Discharge: A Court may, under certain circumstances, decline to enter a conviction against an accused and instead enter a discharge. A discharge is not a criminal conviction. Discharges may be absolute or conditional. A conditional discharge is subject to the accused performing a period of probation with conditions imposed by the Court. A conditional discharge is only effective after the successful completion of the period of probation and any other conditions imposed by the Court.

Docket Court:
A docket Court is usually a provincial Court where the accused first appears. Most criminal matters start in docket Court but may move to other Courts later on depending on the seriousness of the allegation (summary or indictable offence) and the election made by the accused.

Election: If an accused is charged with an indictable offence, they may have the right to choose to whether to have a trial before a lower Court Judge alone, a higher Court Judge alone or a Judge and Jury.

Evidence: Testimony given by witnesses in Court, affidavits sworn and filed in Court, and other material exhibited and admitted as evidence in Court. Courts make decision on the basis of evidence. The disclosure often provides some clue as to what might later become evidence.

First Appearance: An accused’s first date in Court. This date is set out in the information charging the accused with the offence.

Impaired Driving: Operating a motor vehicle with any level of impairment as demonstrated by indicia including but not limited to redness of eyes, motor skills, coordination, stumbling, slurred speech etc. One can be impaired by alcohol or a drug even if blood alcohol readings aren’t that high.

Indictment (or Indictable Offence): A more serious criminal offence. A trial for an indictable offence might include a Jury and/or Judge in a Superior Court.

Information: A document, typically sworn by a police officer setting out the allegation under the Criminal Code, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act or other legislation. The information will typically contain a brief description of the allegation, the date of the allegation and occasionally the name of the complainant.

Joint Submission: When the defence lawyer and crown prosecutor jointly recommend a sentence. Courts do not always have to follow a joint submission by the crown prosecutor and defence counsel.

Jury: A group of people selected from the community to decide on the facts at issue in a trial.

Judge: An individual appointed to decide on the facts at issue in a trial or other matter.

Over 80 mg%:  Operating a motor vehicle while having more than 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood in your body. This is different from driving while impaired as the issue is the accused’s blood alcohol content (BAC) and not the state of impairment. It is possible to be over 80mg% and not impaired. They are two distinct concepts.

Pardon: An individual may be pardoned of an offence committed under certain circumstances. The pardon usually has the effect of clearing the individual’s name of the consequences of the conviction for the offence.

Pre-Trial Conference: A meeting between the crown prosecutor, defence lawyer and usually a Judge to discuss the case and work out various procedural issues. Accuseds are frequently not permitted to participate in the pre-trial conference.

Plea: The position taken by the accused in Court before a Judge. The accused might enter a plea of not guilty or guilty before a Judge. Pleas are usually entered in provincial Courts for summary offences and often in superior Courts for indictable offences.

Plea Bargain: A deal worked out by the prosecutor and defence lawyer tor resolve the case that normally results in a guilty plea to a charge.

Preliminary Hearing: A hearing before trial, which usually occurs in provincial Court, to determine whether some evidence exists upon which a properly instructed Jury could convict an individual of a criminal offence. The preliminary hearing Judge does not determine the merits of the case or perform a weighing exercise but is tasked with determining whether evidence to support the case exists. Most indictable offences offer the accused the option of a preliminary hearing.

Provincial Court: These are lower Courts administered by provincial governments. Judges are appointed by the provincial government. Most criminal matters start in provincial Courts.

Retainer Agreement: An agreement between a lawyer and client to pay certain amounts for legal fees and disbursements (expenses incurred by the lawyer while representing the client). The retainer agreement will typically require a certain amount of money to be paid up front into a trust account before a lawyer takes a case.

Sentencing: After a finding of guilt (after a guilty plea or a finding of guilt at trial) a Court will determine what the appropriate punishment or disposition should be for an accused. A conviction may be entered and the person sentenced to probation, jail time, a fine or some other penalty. Similarly, in some situations an accused can argue for a discharge. The crown prosecutor and defence lawyer may make a joint proposal or argue for different sentences.

Stay of Proceedings or Stay: The cessation of proceedings on a criminal charge. A stay of proceedings is normally requested by a prosecutor and concludes the particular proceedings. In Canada, most charges are “stayed” when the prosecutor decides that he wants to drop the charges. The criminal code allows charges to be reactivated within 1 year of the stay of proceedings although in practice this rarely happens. Charges that are stayed will often appear as pending on a criminal record check during that 1 year period. (See Section 579 CC)

Superior Court: These are higher Courts administered by the provincial government and often called “Superior Court of…”. Judges are appointed by the federal government. Some criminal trials will occur before Superior Courts. More serious, indictable cases will usually be heard before superior Courts. In some provinces, superior Courts are called the “Court of Queen’s Bench”.

Summary (or Summary Offence): A less serious criminal offence. A person charged with a summary offence will normally have a trial before a provincial Court Judge. Penalties for a summary conviction include up to a maximum of six (6) months in prison, with some exceptions allowing for more jail time, or up to a $5000 fine or both (See Section 787 of the Criminal Code). There is a six-month limitation period for laying an Information for a summary offence under the Criminal Code.

Trial:
The marshalling and weighing of evidence by a Judge and/or Jury to determine whether an accused is guilty of a criminal offence. The Court must usually (but not always) determine whether the accused is guilty “beyond reasonable doubt”. The testimony of witnesses, affidavits and other evidence is all considered by the Judge and/or Jury.

Warrant: A written order from a Court directing the arrest of a person. A warrant will often be issued if an accused fails to attend Court. Also, a warrant might authorize a certain person to perform a certain act (for instance, a warrant to search a house). An accused charged with an indictable offence should ensure that his lawyer has a designation of counsel filed with the Court to avoid an arrest warrant for non-attendance in Court.

Withdrawal of Charge: At the request of a prosecutor a Court may order that a charge be removed or withdrawn. This has the effect of immediately concluding the criminal proceeding against the accused.

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