Crown pre-trials are an essential part of the Canadian criminal justice system. Also known as resolution meetings, Crown pre-trials allow the defence and prosecution (the Crown) to discuss the case and try to come to a mutually agreeable resolution. If a resolution is not reached, the case will usually go to trial.
Today, we’ll discuss at length Crown pre-trials and resolution meetings, including how to prepare for them, what to expect, and what kinds of resolutions can be reached.
If you want to read a comprehensive overview of this and several other key components of the Canadian criminal trial process, visit this article next: How Does a Canadian Criminal Trial Work in Ontario?
What is a Crown Pre-trial?
A Crown pre-trial meeting is held between the defence and the prosecution where both sides can discuss the case and try to come to an agreement about the next steps.
The purpose of a Crown pre-trial is to narrow the issues in dispute, identify any areas of agreement, and explore the possibility of resolving the case without going to trial. This can save everyone involved a great deal of time and money. These meetings also allow the defence and prosecution to negotiate timing estimates for trial and a preliminary hearing.
A judge does not need to be present at a Crown pre-trial. However, if a resolution isn’t reached, Crown attorneys and defence lawyers often decide they need to discuss the facts of the case with a judge present. In this case, it becomes what is known as a judicial pre-trial.
These meetings are similar to Crown pre-trials, but they involve a judge. They are less common, and usually happen when the defence and prosecution can’t agree on critical issues, or when there is a disagreement about how to proceed with the case.
At a judicial meeting, the judge will usually hear from both sides about the issues and try to help them narrow the issues in dispute. The judge may also give their opinion about how the case should be dealt with.
Judicial meetings are not open to the public and are not hearings. This means that witnesses do not testify, and evidence is not presented.
The ultimate goal of a judicial meeting is still to try to resolve the case without going to trial. However, if this isn’t possible, the judge will usually set a date for a trial.
In the event the accused decides to take responsibility for the crime, there might be a special meeting known as a resolution meeting.
As Steps to Justice explains:
“A resolution meeting is focused on resolving your case without a trial. Instead of talking about how long a trial would take, you and the Crown talk about different ways to resolve your case, such as:
- diversion or alternative measures
- going to counselling or a treatment facility for substance use
- signing a peace bond
- pleading guilty”
These meetings also give the accused a chance to speak to the Crown about why they should not be convicted or receive a lighter sentence. However, consulting with a criminal defence lawyer is essential before attending these meetings or saying anything. They can advise what to disclose, what not to disclose, and how to present your case best.
In the event, you later decide not to plead guilty, and the case ends up going to trial, you’ll want to be sure you don’t say anything to the Crown at a pre-trial meeting that could be used against you (more on this in a moment).
What is Diversion?
We mentioned diversion earlier, and it’s worth discussing in more detail. Diversion is seen as a viable alternative to entering the criminal justice system for some people who have committed minor offences, and it’s also known as “direct accountability.”
Diversion programs allow eligible offenders to take responsibility for their actions by completing certain conditions, such as community service or restitution, without going through the court process. Once these conditions are completed, the charges are dropped, and there is no criminal record.
Diversion can only be used for certain types of offences, and not everyone is eligible. If you think you might be eligible for diversion, speak to a lawyer. In some cases, the Crown may offer you diversion. However, it is up to you to decide whether to take it or proceed with the case in another way.
FAQs About Crown Pre-Trials and Resolution Meetings
Next, we will go over some frequently asked questions about Crown pre-trials and resolution meetings.
Do I need a lawyer for a Crown pre-trial or resolution meeting?
If you decide not to retain a criminal defence lawyer, you can attend a pre-trial meeting by yourself. Alternatively, you can ask duty counsel (contact Legal Aid Ontario to learn more) to assist you.
However, attending these meetings without a criminal defence lawyer is generally not a good idea. They can offer advice on the best way to proceed with your case and how to present your side in the most favourable light. Criminal defence lawyers can provide advice on how to best present your case, what to say, and what not to say. They can also help gather critical evidence and witnesses to support your defence. In fact, it can mean the difference between a conviction and being found not guilty.
If you decide to plead guilty as part of a resolution meeting, your lawyer can also help negotiate a more favourable sentence on your behalf.
What happens after a Crown pre-trial?
Depending on the outcome of the Crown pre-trial, the case will typically go to trial or be resolved through a meeting.
If you plead not guilty, the case will go to trial unless the Crown decides not to proceed. Alternatively, the case may be resolved through a resolution meeting.
If you plead guilty, the case will be resolved, and you will be sentenced.
What should I say at a pre-trial or resolution meeting?
Generally speaking, you should avoid saying anything that could be used against you at trial. This is why it’s so important to consult with a criminal defence lawyer before attending these meetings. They can advise you on what to say and what not to say.
In some cases, the Crown may ask you questions about the offence. It’s important to note you have the right to remain silent and do not have to answer any questions. However, if you choose to answer questions, anything you say can be used against you.
The Crown may also ask you to disclose certain pieces of evidence, such as witnesses or documents. But, again, you have the right to remain silent and do not have to disclose any information that could be used against you.
Remember: if you do choose to disclose information, be sure only to provide what is essential. Don’t provide more information than necessary, as this could be used against you.
Contact an Ontario Criminal Defence Lawyer for Help
Crown pre-trials and resolution meetings can be complex and confusing. The stakes are incredibly high, and a conviction can have severe consequences for your life. That’s why it’s so important to have experienced legal representation. KIVLaw has a team of dedicated and knowledgeable Ontario criminal defence lawyers who are ready to fight for you. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.