Election and Plea
Once the defence has received and reviewed your disclosure, and has had time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case, the next stage in the process will be to enter elections and pleas before the Court.
In Canada, criminal offences can be categorized into three levels of seriousness:
- Summary conviction offences
- Hybrid offences
- Indictable offences
A summary conviction offence generally means that the allegations are less serious, and that the punishments available to the Judge if you are convicted are less serious. A summary conviction offence is comparable to a “misdemeanor” in American law. A summary conviction offence can only be heard in front of a Provincial Court Judge.
A hybrid offence is a charge that can be prosecuted either by summary conviction or by indictment. This decision will be made by the Crown prosecutor at the initial stage of the process (docket court).
An indictable offence is a criminal charge that is more serious and allows for more serious penalties. When facing an indictable charge you will have an "election" of which court you want to hear your case. Three options will be available to you if you decide to proceed to trial:
- Be tried by a Provincial Court Judge alone. This means that your case will be heard in front of a Provincial Court Judge, and you will not be entitled to a preliminary inquiry.
- Be tried by a Court of Queen’s Bench Judge alone. The Court of Queen’s Bench is a higher court than the Provincial Court. If you choose to be tried by the Court of Queen’s Bench, you will be entitled to a preliminary hearing at the Provincial Court level.
- Be tried by a Court of Queen’s Bench Judge and Jury. This means that a jury of twelve people will decide whether or not you are guilty. If you elect to be tried by a Judge and Jury, you will also have the option of having a preliminary hearing at the Provincial Court Level.
Most criminal charges will end up being dealt with at the Provincial Court level. The recommendation to elect Queen’s Bench Court will be made for strategic reasons in most cases, and generally will be reserved for more serious criminal offences.
Once elections have been made you will then have the option of pleading either guilty or not guilty. The recommendation to plead guilty or not guilty will depend on myriad factors. Where a decision has been made to plead guilty, your matter will then be scheduled into a ‘disposition’ courtroom, and where a decision has been made to plead not guilty, a trial will be scheduled.