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Victims Week 2024: Step-By-Step Guide to a Criminal Case

For victims of crime, their families, and the community, the complexity & length of the Canadian criminal justice system can be difficult and frustrating.

So what does the criminal process generally look like? We've created a simplified infographic to help you understand how a Canadian criminal case typically works:


Police gather evidence & interview witnesses or suspects - this can take weeks, months, or years


Police consider all evidence & case law when deciding on charges, and after they arrest the accused and lay charges, they will send the case to the Crown's office for proceeding to trial


The Crown attorneys will look at the whole case & decide on the odds of getting a conviction; they will either drop the charges or if conviction is likely, then they will proceed to a trial


A judge hears all evidence, witnesses, & arguments from both Crown & defence, and decides whether to go through with a trial or dismiss charges


Crown & defence may agree to certain charges or sentences in exchange for a guilty plea - this can happen at any point before or during a trial


Crown presents evidence & witnesses first, followed by the defence. This can take a few days to a few weeks or even months depending how complex the case is


A judge or jury will decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty - judges may take weeks or months to decide & will set a separate date to give their decision


If the accused is found guilty, the judge decides on the sentence. A Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) may be done to learn about the offender's background. Crown and defence may make recommendations to the judge for the sentence. This happens a few weeks or months after a decision is given


The judge makes the final decision on a sentence, and may take days or weeks after sentencing arguments to give their decision on a separate date


A decision can only be changed by an appeal to a higher court and must be based on an error in law by the judge, not because Crown or defence does not agree with the decision


Years after an offender is sentenced, they have the option to apply for conditional release or parole. A hearing will be scheduled to assess their risk to the community. Victims & their families have the right to attend in person or virtually.

Note: this is a general overview - however, there can be things that come up & change how the case proceeds, such as a "hung jury" (where the jury cannot get to a unanimous agreement), requests to change it to jury or judge-alone verdicts, changes in lawyers, or scheduling concerns.


Government of Manitoba, The Criminal Case: Step by Step

Government of Canada, Observing Parole Board of Canada Hearings


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