Criminal law broadly refers to federal and provincial laws that make certain behavior illegal and punishable by imprisonment and/or fines. Our legal system is largely comprised of two different types of cases: civil and criminal. Civil cases are disputes between people regarding the legal duties and responsibilities they owe to each other. Criminal cases, however, are charges pursued by prosecutors for violations of criminal statutes.

Criminal Law: History

The criminal law of Canada is under the legislative jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada. The power to enact criminal law is derived from Constitution Act, 1867. Most criminal laws have Criminal Codes, as well as the Controlled Drugs and Substances ActYouth Criminal Justice Act and several other peripheral statutes.

There are two basic types of offences. The most minor offences are summary conviction offences. They are defined as “summary” within the Act and, unless otherwise stated, are punishable by a fine of no more than $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail. Examples of offences which are always summary offences include trespassing at night, causing a disturbance and taking a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent etc.

All non-summary offences are indictable. The available penalties are greater for indictable offences than for summary offences. These in turn may be divided into three categories.

Non-summary offences

All non-summary offences are indictable: the available penalties are greater for indictable offences than for summary offences. These in turn may be divided into three categories.

  • Indictable-only offences include treason and murder. These can only be tried by the higher court of the province with a jury, unless both the accused person and the Attorney General consent to trial by a higher court judge alone.
  • Offences of absolute jurisdiction include theft and fraud up to the value of $5,000 and certain nuisance offences. The accused person may not have an election and must be tried by a judge of the provincial court without a jury.
  • Most other offences defined by the Criminal Code are trial-able. In these offences the accused person can elect whether to be tried by:
    • a provincial court judge,
    • a judge of the higher court of the province without a jury or
    • a judge of the higher court with a jury.

However, if the accused elects trial by a provincial court judge, that judge can decline jurisdiction and refer the case to the higher court. The Attorney General can also require a case to be tried by the higher court with a jury.

Police Investigate, Prosecutors File Charges

Many people think that police officers charge offenders. That is a common misconception. Police gather evidence and sometimes also testify in court. But prosecutors ultimately decide whether a suspect is prosecuted or not.

Criminal Defense Lawyers

A qualified criminal defense attorney is often a crucial advocate for anyone charged with a crime. These attorneys are very familiar with local criminal procedures and laws. Most defense lawyers are able to handle any misdemeanor or low-level crime. But not all lawyers are qualified to handle serious charges. Some courts don’t allow inexperienced attorneys to represent defendants facing capital punishment, for example.

Macchia Law covers most criminal law situations. We provide information on common crimes, criminal records, juvenile crime, an overview of stages in a typical criminal case, tips on your constitutional rights and much more. However if your case is very complex drug, sexual assaults, firearms, murder charges etc. Nella would like to refer you to her daughter, a criminal lawyer, Kim Schoefield.