Courts & Trials

A Deep Dive Into Jury Trials

Written on behalf of Barrison Law
Photo of two people reviewing documents representing jurors reviewing evidence before rendering a verdict.

 While judges play a crucial role in upholding the law, Canadian criminal justice grants a fundamental right, which is the right to be tried by a jury. This blog delves into the world of jury trials in Canada, and more specifically, in Ontario, exploring the historical roots, legal framework, and the significance of jury trials within the criminal justice system.

A Right Enshrined in Law

The right to a jury trial is not a common law tradition but a right enshrined in Section 11(f) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This right applies to any offense punishable by a maximum imprisonment of five years or more. In other words, if you have been charged with a serious crime, you may have the choice to be judged by a group of your fellow citizens, not just a judge alone.

Historical Underpinnings

The jury system has a long history, with roots tracing back to medieval England, where it served as a check on the power of the monarchy. A jury of one’s peers provided a safeguard against arbitrary accusations and ensured a measure of fairness in the justice system. This concept resonated with the ideals of a democratic society, where ordinary citizens have a say in matters of justice.

Understanding Jury Trials in Ontario

Most criminal cases that go to trial remain in Ontario’s lower court, known as the Ontario Court of Justice. These cases involve less serious indictable offences (identified under section 553 of the Criminal Code of Canada) and are heard and decided by a provincial court judge. These judges specialize in criminal law and have been appointed as a judge by the province.

Cases involving serious offences, such as murder, sexual assault, or other major offences outlined under section 469 of the Criminal Code of Canada, proceed to the Superior Court of Justice. These trials are generally conducted by a Superior Court judge, who has been appointed by the federal government, and are decided by a judge and jury, composed of 12 jurors, unless the parties consent to have the matter decided by a judge only.

The Jury Selection Process

The jury selection process is critical to ensure the parties are afforded a fair trial. Canadian citizens from the age of 18 are eligible for jury duty and are subject to a random selection process to ensure that a representative cross-section of the community is called upon for jury selection. During jury selection, both the Crown (prosecution) and defense counsel have the right to “challenge” potential jurors they believe may be biased or unfit to serve on the jury. Lawyers may use challenges for cause, based on specific reasons like personal connections to the case, or peremptory challenges, which allow for dismissal without explanation, however, the quantity of these challenges are limited.

The Role and Responsibilities of Jurors

Jurors are tasked with the critical responsibility of weighing the evidence presented by both the Crown and the defense in relation to the charges at hand. This evidence may include witness testimonies, physical exhibits, police reports, and expert opinions. Jurors must carefully listen to all arguments presented, take detailed notes, and may ask clarifying questions if needed.

After the trial, jurors are sequestered to engage in objective deliberation in aims of reaching a unanimous verdict. In their sequestered environment, jurors are separated from outside influences, including people and media, to reach a verdict based solely on the evidence presented in court.

The Crown’s Burden and the Standard of Proof

In a criminal trial, the Crown (prosecution) carries the burden of proof. They must convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime. This is a high standard, meaning any lingering doubts about the accused’s guilt must lead to an acquittal. The judge instructs the jury on the law, explaining relevant legal concepts and principles. However, the jury is solely responsible for determining guilt or innocence based on their understanding of the evidence and the legal instructions provided.

Reaching a Verdict and Sentencing

After careful deliberation, in an ideal situation, the jury reaches a unanimous verdict and provides their verdict to the judge overseeing the trial. If the verdict is “guilty,” the judge then determines the appropriate sentence within the range outlined by law. The sentencing process considers various factors, including the severity of the crime, the accused’s criminal history, and potential rehabilitation prospects.

The Advantages of Jury Trials

Jury trials offer several advantages by promoting public participation and reinforcing the idea that justice is served by the community. Citizens from all walks of life are called upon to serve on juries across the province, and the country, in order to bring a diverse range of perspectives to the table. This can lead to a more balanced and fair outcome, compared to a system where a single judge decides guilt or innocence. A jury trial also serves as a safeguard against potential judicial bias, as with its inherent diversity, a jury is less susceptible to such biases.

Challenges and Considerations with Jury Trials

Jury trials are not without their challenges. The selection process can be lengthy, and jury deliberations can be time-consuming. In high-profile cases, juror anonymity may be compromised, making it difficult to remain objective in the face of media attention and public pressure. There is also a risk of juror bias, even with a rigorous selection process, as jurors may come into the trial with preconceived notions or may misinterpret complex legal concepts. To mitigate this risk, however, extensive jury instructions are provided by the judge, and both the Crown and defense counsel have the opportunity to question potential jurors during selection to identify any biases.

Contact Barrison Law for Skilled Representation in Criminal Law Matters

The right to a jury trial is a cornerstone of the criminal justice systems. Whether you are facing a less serious offence under the Criminal Code, or have been charged with a serious offence, the trusted criminal defence lawyers at Barrison Law will protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Our criminal defence team is dedicated to helping clients throughout the Durham Region and Central East Region of Ontario and will create a sound strategy to help you get the best possible results. Contact us online or call us at 905-404-1947 to speak with a member of our team today.