Do I have a right to have a trial with a jury?
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Do I have a right to have a trial with a jury?
Before understanding what a right to a jury trial is, you must understand how a person arrives at the stage of a trial. After you have been charged with a criminal offence, and plead not guilty, the process then shifts to what is known as a trial. A criminal trial is an investigation to determine if a person who has been accused is guilty of the crime that they have been charged with. As stated in other FAQ, the responsibility is on the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you have actually committed the crime and intended to commit the crime.
The next consideration that you must take into account as a person who has been charged with an offence is to determine whether you have the right to a jury trial. A jury is made up of 12 people called jurors. Jurors must meet certain criteria to be able to be party of a jury. One of those criteria is that jurors must be 18 years of age or older. The jurors will be people who live in the Province of Alberta.
Section 11(f) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms , section 11(f), a person has an automatic right to a jury trial if the punishment of an offence includes imprisonment for five years, or a more severe punishment. The Criminal Code of Canada also provides for a right to a trial if the matter is being charged under an indictable offence. The rule that is firmly understood, and constitutionally guaranteed, is with respect to a five-year minimum prison sentence.
You as the accused have the right to decide if you want to proceed by the way of a jury trial or a judge alone trial. If you are charged with offences under 469 of the Criminal Code of Canada, with offences such as murder or terrorism, the right to decide to be tried before a judge alone or jury is taken away. This will happen unless the prosecutor agrees that a judge alone trial is allowed. There are other factors to consider in making that decision, and benefits and disadvantages for each type of trial.
For a jury trial, the benefits include the chance to bring forward your case to a group of your peers. This is beneficial to you depending on the crime. Jurors tend to be swayed by emotional and personal circumstances that influenced you in committing that crime. They can also be less concerned with procedural details, and can be more focused on making a decision based on your personal situation. However, the judge directs the jury as to the law and what they can and cannot consider.
In some cases, the type of offence and the type of emotion it brings up can also work the other way. This is seen in cases where a person has been charged for crimes that harmed vulnerable people, caused long-lasting damage to society, when it is a shocking crime, and when the accused has a long criminal record. The other problem with a jury trial is based on the unpredictability of the jurors. The average person can easily misunderstand evidence, instructions, and even critical aspects of the case. For these reasons, it may be a risk in itself to rely on a jury of your peers.
For cases being decided by judge alone, the benefits are because of the expertise of the judge. This includes the approach of the judge with using an unbiased approach, having a full understanding of the legal technicalities, and the ability of the judge to determine what is relevant in your specific case.
As mentioned in other FAQ that I have posted, if you are charged with an indictable offence, it is more likely that a jury trial will be an option available to you. The final point to consider is with respect to the level of court that will deal with your matter. In Alberta, there are three levels of court. The first is the Alberta Court of Justice, the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta, and the Court of Appeal of Alberta. For matters that a jury would be selected for, this would occur in the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta. The most serious of criminal matters take place in this court, and would include those such as murders, sexual assault with a weapon, kidnapping, and robbery with a restricted weapon.
The most important point to remember is that in the majority of cases you do not have to elect to have a jury trial and can make the best decision once you have consulted a criminal defence lawyer. Your lawyer will provide you with information relevant to your situation, so that you can understand what legal repercussions you must take into account.