Trial procedures
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Trial Procedures. Chapter 6. The Adversarial System. Trial procedures in Canada are based on the adversarial system : two or more opposing sides present and argue their case in court.

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Trial procedures

Trial Procedures

Chapter 6

The adversarial system

The Adversarial System

  • Trial procedures in Canada are based on the adversarial system: two or more opposing sides present and argue their case in court.

  • In order for an accused person to be found guilty, a judge or jury must find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

  • Canadian courtrooms have several participants, including the accused, the defence counsel, Crown prosecutors, witnesses, a judge, a jury, a court recorder and members of the general public there to observe.

Judges who are they

Judges – Who Are They?

  • Judges are often referred to as "the Bench" or "the Court."

  • The federal government appoints judges for the Superior and Federal Courts as well as the Supreme Court of Canada.

  • Provincial governments appoint judges and justices of the peace.

  • Lawyers or law professors with at least 10 years experience may qualify to be a judge.

A judge s responsibilities

A Judge's Responsibilities

  • During a trial, a judge must act impartially or in an unbiased manner.

  • Judges control the courtroom during bail or preliminary hearings and trials.

  • They must ensure that proper rules and procedures are followed in court.

  • If there is no jury, a judge must also hear the evidence and decide on the verdict in the case.

  • Judges may also rule on a number of motions, including whether or not to admit evidence.

The lawyers

The Lawyers

  • The adversarial system features lawyers to represent the government and the accused.

  • Lawyers who represent the government are the Crown Prosecution and those who represent the accused are the Defence Counsel.

  • Crown prosecutors, or Crown attorneys, are responsible for trying to convict the accused. The Crown also has significant powers to lay or withdraw criminal charges.

  • Defence attorneys must defend the accused against the charges to the best of their ability, however heinous the charges are.

Other court officials

Other Court Officials

  • In addition to judges and lawyers, there are other court officials who have important responsibilities in court:

    • Court clerk: reads out charge(s), swears in witnesses, handles evidence and paperwork

    • Court recorder: sits near the witness box and records each testimony and statement, word for word

    • Sheriff: assists the judge, find prospective jurors, organizes and secures the court



  • Serious indictable offences are decided by juries – members of the public who are randomly selected to hear a case and decide on the verdict.

  • There are usually 12 people selected to serve on a jury through a process called empanelling.

  • A jury panel is a group of citizens who are selected for possible inclusion on a jury.

  • If a case is controversial, the number of potential jurors included in the jury panel increases.

Who can be a juror

Who Can Be a Juror?

  • Although each individual province and territory may have its own additional criteria, a potential juror must have these qualifications:

    He or she must be…

    • A Canadian citizen

    • At least 18 years old

    • A resident of a province or territory for at least one year

    • Fluent in English or French

    • Mentally competent

Exemptions from jury duty

Exemptions From Jury Duty

  • The following people are usually exempt from serving on a jury:

    • Politicians

    • Judges, justices, lawyers, law students

    • Doctors, coroners, veterinarians

    • Law enforcement officers and their spouses

    • People who are visually impaired

    • People with certain mental or physical disabilities

    • People who have served on a jury within the previous 2–3 years

    • Anyone convicted of an indictable offence without a pardon being granted

    • People may also be excused from jury duty if they can convince the court with a specific reason (e.g. illness).

Screening potential jurors

Screening Potential Jurors

  • During the screening of potential jurors, the Crown and defence have an opportunity to ask a series of questions, which commonly include:

    • Are you a Canadian citizen?

    • Are you fluent in French or English?

    • Have you been convicted of an indictable offence for which you have not been granted a pardon?

    • What is your occupation?

    • Do you have a mental or physical disability or medical condition that may interfere with your ability to serve as a juror?

    • Have you been summoned for jury duty in the last three years?

Jury challenges

Jury Challenges

  • There are three types of challenges that the Crown and defence can use to accept or eliminate a prospective juror:

    • challenge of jury list

    • challenge for cause

    • peremptory challenge

Challenge of jury list

Challenge of Jury List

  • The Crown and defence may challenge how valid the jury list is, but this is rarely done.

  • If either side can prove the list is fraudulent or biased, a challenge of jury list may be successful.

  • Example: The accused is of Aboriginal descent. The 100 prospective jurors who have been empanelled are all Caucasian. The accused feels the jury list is unfair and challenges its validity.

Challenge for cause

Challenge for Cause

  • This type of jury challenge can be used by the Crown or defence when they wish to exclude a potential juror for a specific reason.

  • A challenge for cause is usually based on the belief that a juror has some kind of bias (e.g. racism, sexism, religious discrimination).

  • Example: The accused is Jewish and his defence lawyers believe a prospective juror is anti-Semitic and can prove it.

  • This type of challenge may be used as many times as necessary.

Peremptory challenge

Peremptory Challenge

  • This type of jury challenge may be used by the Crown or defence when they wish to exclude a potential juror without a specific reason.

  • Peremptory challenges are often based on the "gut feeling" of a lawyer or as a strategy.

  • Example: A woman accuses her boyfriend of aggravated sexual assault. The Crown wants more young women on the jury than men and may use peremptory challenges to try and achieve this goal.

  • This type of challenge has limits, depending on the severity of the crime. The most serious charges provide the Crown and defence with 20 challenges each, which is the maximum.

Jury duty process

Jury Duty – Process

  • After being selected to serve on a jury, each juror takes an oath (to arrive at a verdict honestly) and is sworn into the jury box.

  • Jurors cannot:

    • Discuss the case with anyone outside of the jury

    • Follow media reports on the case

    • Disclose any information from their deliberations even after a trial has finished

  • The jury’s final decision on the case is the verdict and it must be unanimous or else the jury is hung (undecided).

  • In controversial cases, a jury may be sequestered (isolated) until the case is over.

Presenting evidence

Presenting Evidence

  • The presentation of evidence is very important for any trial.

    This includes:

    • Crown evidence

    • Defence evidence

    • Witnesses

    • Rules of evidence

    • Self-incrimination

Crown evidence

Crown Evidence

  • Since the burden of proof is on the Crown, it is responsible for presenting evidence against the accused.

    • Direct evidence: usually based on witness testimony

    • Circumstantial evidence: indirect evidence that tries to link the accused to the crime through circumstance and physical evidence

Defence evidence

Defence Evidence

  • The main responsibility of the defence is not to present evidence, but to raise reasonable doubt.

  • If the defence believes that the Crown has not presented its case effectively, the defence may request a directed verdict - asking the judge to dismiss the charges on the basis that the Crown has not adequately proven its case.

  • If the defence decides to present its own evidence, it is usually in the form of witnesses. Everything else is meant to counter the evidence that the Crown presents.



Examination-in-chief: the questions a lawyer

asks his or her own witness in court, also known

as direct examination. Leading questions are

not allowed during this examination.

Leading question: a question that already

contains or leads the witness to the desired


Cross-examination: the questions a lawyer asks

a witness called by the opposing side



  • Although most witnesses appear in court voluntarily, they may be served with a subpoena – a court document that orders a person to appear in court.

  • If a subpoenaed witness refuses to appear in court, he or she may be fined or imprisoned for up to 90 days.

  • Witnesses are often excluded from a courtroom until it is their turn to testify so they are not influenced by what they are watching.

  • A witness who knowingly gives false evidence may be guilty of perjury and could go to prison for up to 14 years.

Rules of evidence

Rules of Evidence

  • All of the rules on the admissibility of evidence are contained in the Canada Evidence Act.

  • If the admissibility of evidence is questioned, a judge may order a voir dire, also known as “a hearing within a hearing,” to decide if the evidence should be allowed.

  • If a voir dire is held, the jury is ordered out of the courtroom until the hearing on the evidence is finished. The jury returns and the trial continues.

Self incrimination


  • The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects witnesses from incriminating themselves while providing testimony during a trial.

  • If witnesses believe they are being asked questions which could incriminate or implicate them in a crime, they may object to the question.

  • The only exception is perjury.

  • If law enforcement officials believe a witness is guilty of a crime based on answers he or she provides during his or her testimony, they may lay a charge on that witness as soon as he or she steps out of the courtroom.

Types of evidence

Types of Evidence

  • These are common types of evidence introduced during trials:

    • Privileged communications

    • Similar fact evidence

    • Hearsay evidence

    • Opinion evidence

    • Character evidence

    • Photographs

    • Electronic devices and video evidence

    • Polygraph evidence

    • Confessions

Privileged communications

Privileged Communications

  • Any communication that is considered confidential is “privileged” and cannot be used in court.

  • Examples: lawyers-clients, doctors-patients, spouses, religious officials who have heard confessions

  • The person who receives the communication is the dominant party. If he or she decides to present confidential information, it will have no force as it is an abuse of his or her position.

Similar fact hearsay

Similar Fact & Hearsay

Similar Fact: shows the accused has committed

similar offences in the past; is meant to establish a

pattern of behaviour; sometimes called “the similar

fact rule”

Hearsay: information that is repeated by a third

party; not coming from the direct experience or

knowledge of a witness (e.g. repeating something

he or she heard someone else say)

Opinion character

Opinion & Character

Opinion: evidence based on the observations of

an expert who may be paid for the testimony;

expert testimony must be relevant to the case

Character: information about what kind of person

the accused is; indicating the likelihood of their

committing the crime. The defence may introduce

this type of evidence to generate sympathy for

its client, but this also allows the Crown to

question the accused’s character.

Photographs surveillance

Photographs & Surveillance

  • Photographs may be entered as evidence if they are proven to be an accurate portrait of the crime scene.

  • A judge may exclude photographs if they are simply meant to inflame the jury.

  • Surveillance includes cameras and other electronic devices used to intercept private conversations.

  • Surveillance devices must be authorized by a court order.

Polygraphs confessions

Polygraphs & Confessions

  • A polygraph (lie detector) test measures changes in a person’s blood pressure and pulse rate when he or she is asked questions.

  • Supreme Court has ruled that polygraphs are not entirely reliable and therefore are not allowed to be introduced in court as evidence.

  • Police still use them as an investigative tool.

  • A confession occurs when an accused person admits that he or she is guilty of a crime (inculpatory statement).

  • For a confession to be considered in court, it must be provided voluntarily by the accused.

Summation charge to the jury

Summation & Charge to the Jury

  • After all witnesses have been called, the Crown and defence each present a summation, or closing statement.

  • This is a summary of each side’s key arguments and evidence.

  • After the summations, the judge makes the charge to the jury.

  • In it, the judge reviews the facts and defines and explains the law that applies to the case for the jury.

  • The judge can also indicate to the jury how the evidence should be weighed.

  • After this, the Crown and defence can challenge the charge for legal errors. Many appeals result from the judge’s charge to the jury.

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