Were you accused of committing a crime and ordered to go to court? You might have to go to court more than once.
This article explains the steps in the court process.
Teens under 18 who are accused of a crime usually have to go to the Youth Division of the Court of Québec. It is also called youth court.
You got a document called a promise to appear, a summons or an appearance notice. The document tells you to appear in court on a specific date and time. You must be there. This is the first step in the court process. It is called an appearance.
An appearance is not the trial. The trial happens later (see section below).
Guilty or Not Guilty?
When you appear in court you will be told what crimes you are accused of. You will have to plead guilty or not guilty for each crime. This is not the trial.
2. Bail Hearing
If you’re under 18 and the police stop you for committing a crime, they will usually release you. This means you are allowed to go home while you wait to appear in court (see section above).
But the police might decide to detain you until your appearance. This means that you have to stay at a youth centre. As a general rule, you cannot be forced to stay in a youth centre for more than 24 hours while waiting to see a judge.
If the police decide to detain you, the next step in your case is a bail hearing. During a bail hearing, a judge in youth court will decide whether you can be released until your trial.
Important! Sometimes the judge decides that you must be detained until your trial. But this does not always mean you have to stay in a youth centre. The judge can decide to put you in the care of a responsible person, such as a parent. In this case, you will have to obey any orders the judge gives you.
3. Between the Appearance and the Trial
You might have to go to court a few times between your appearance and your trial. These in-between steps are called pro forma hearings.
For example, during a pro forma hearing, you and your lawyer might be shown the proof against you. The proof is shown to you by the criminal and penal prosecuting attorney. The criminal and penal prosecuting attorney, also called a prosecutor, is a government lawyer who takes people accused of crimes to court in a criminal case.
Your lawyer can try to negotiate with the prosecutor during a pro forma hearing.
If you pleaded not guilty, you will have a trial. A trial is the main step the court process where lawyers for both sides present proof and arguments to the judge.
During the trial the prosecutor shows the judge proof that you committed the crime. The proof is called evidence. The prosecutor can ask witnesses to tell the judge what they saw or heard. The prosecutor can also show the judge documents, videos or photographs to convince the judge that you committed the crime.
Next, your lawyer will defend you by giving proof to show you did not commit the crime. Your lawyer can also call witnesses and show the judge documents, videos or photographs.
In Canada, anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. This means it’s not up to you or your lawyer to prove that you did not commit the crime. Instead, the prosecutor has to prove that you did.
At the end of the trial, the prosecutor and your lawyer will make arguments to convince the judge of their positions. These are called closing arguments.
5. Verdict: Guilty or Not Guilty
The judge makes a decision after the trial, but not necessarily on the same day. The decision is called a verdict.
The judge will decide whether you are guilty or not guilty of the crime and must give reasons for the decision.
To find you guilty, the judge has to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. This means that the judge must be almost 100% sure that you are guilty. If the judge has a reasonable doubt, you must be found not guilty.
If the judge decides you’re not guilty, we say that you have been acquitted. Your case is over and your record will be destroyed a few months later.
If the judge decides you’re guilty, you will be sentenced. To be sentenced means to be given a punishment.
A sentence is the punishment that you get when you’re found guilty of a crime. The judge decides what sentence is best in your case.
The judge does not always decide the sentence right after the trial. It could take weeks before you know what your sentence is.
Before deciding on the sentence, the judge can ask for a pre-sentence report. This is a document prepared by a youth worker. A youth worker is a professional who helps teens who are in trouble with the law. Youth workers work in a youth centre.
The report contains a lot of information, including what the victim thinks, your family and personal situation and whether you had trouble with the law before. This information helps the judge decide what the best sentence will be.
Have you committed a crime? Learn what can happen.
Alternatives to Court
Going to Court
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.