What happens at a provincial offences trial, and how do I prepare?

5. Think about trial strategy

To prepare for your trial, review your notes and evidence, as well as the disclosure. Ask yourself whether you think the prosecution will be able to prove all of the elements of the offence.

Opening statements

You and the prosecutor will be able to make an opening statement before any evidence is given. This is where you lay out your version of events. The prosecutor goes first.

Question witnesses

When you question your own witness, this is called an “examination-in-chief”. You can ask your witness about anything that is relevant to the case. But you cannot ask them “leading questions”. A leading question is a question that suggests an answer, for example: “The man was tall, wasn’t he?” or “The car was blue, right?”

When you question a witness for the prosecution, this is called “cross-examination”. Cross-examination is an opportunity for you to ask questions to test the evidence that the witness gave. You’re allowed to ask leading questions.

Exhibits

An exhibit is anything that you present to the court and use to support your case. Common exhibits include letters, pictures, business records, and video. Exhibits must be relevant and properly identified. Something is relevant if it addresses an issue that is in question during your case.

It’s a good idea to bring at least 3 copies of the things you want to provide as evidence: one for you, the court, and the prosecution.

Exhibits are “admitted” into evidence through witnesses. This usually means you ask the witness to identify the piece of evidence. For example, you may use the author of a document, or show a video to someone who was present at the time the video was taken.

Once the witness has identified the piece of evidence, ask the Justice of the Peace to admit the evidence as an exhibit before you continue to question the witness. You usually identify exhibits with a number, starting with “Exhibit 1”.

Marking evidence as exhibits helps everyone keep track of the evidence and avoid confusion. It also creates a record of what the Justice of the Peace considered at the hearing.

If the Justice of the Peace does not accept your exhibit, then they will not use it when deciding your case.

Closing statements

At the end of your trial, you and the prosecutor can summarize your evidence. The goal is to tell the court why you should be found not guilty. The prosecution goes first.

You should have an outline of what you want to say ahead of time. You may have to modify your closing statement because of what is said at trial.

When making your closing statement:

  • Don’t bring up new facts that no one testified to.
  • Don’t make it personal. You can point out weaknesses in the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, but don’t insult the witnesses by saying that they are lying.
  • Don’t say that you will ignore the court’s ruling if you’re found guilty.

Get a decision

At the end of the trial, the Justice of the Peace decides if you’re guilty. If you’re found guilty, the Justice of the Peace may sentence you right away or adjourn sentencing to another date.

There are a range of sentences in Provincial Offences Court. For example, the amount of any fine depends on the offence, what the prosecutor is asking for, and what the court decides. It can range from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

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