A person charged with a criminal offence is presumed innocent until they plead guilty or are proven guilty in court. The Crown Prosecutor must prove that the accused person is guilty. The accused person does not have to prove that they are innocent. If you are being tried for a criminal offence, you can decide whether you want to call any witnesses and whether you want to testify. If you decide to testify you can be cross-examined by the Crown Prosecutor.
In order to convict an accused person the Crown Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused person committed the criminal offence that they are charged with. To do this they must prove (1) that the person engaged in criminal behaviour and (2) that they had the state of mind required for that crime. Both these elements - the act and the intention - must be proven.
It's important to note that individuals may be convicted of provincial offences regardless of their state of mind. For example, you could be convicted of speeding if the court was satisfied that you operated a vehicle above the speed limit. That is the only element that needs to be proven. Unlike criminal offences, the Crown Prosecutor does not need to also prove that you intended to speed.
The judge, or the members of the jury if there is one, cannot find the person guilty if they have a reasonable doubt about the accused person's guilt. They have a reasonable doubt if, after considering all the evidence, they are unsure whether the accused person committed the offence. To convict, the judge or the jury must believe that the only sensible explanation, considering all the evidence, is that the accused person committed the crime.
The criminal law sets out exactly what amounts to a crime, both the person's behaviour and the circumstances under which it must take place. For someone to be convicted of a criminal offence it must be proven that they did what was prohibited under the circumstances described in the Criminal Code. For example, the offence of causing a disturbance prohibits causing a disturbance outside of a `dwelling-house.`
Often the criminal behaviour is something the accused person did, such as commit an assault or a threat. Sometimes the criminal behaviour is something the accused person did not do, when required to by law. This is called "an omission". For example, it is an offence to fail to provide food for your dependent children. Failing to assist a police officer who needs and asks for help is also an offence.
The criminal behaviour must also be voluntary. Acts or omissions that are beyond a person's control are not voluntary. For example, a person who commits a criminal act while sleepwalking may not be guilty because the harmful actions were not done voluntarily. Similarly, if a person fell into a coma and did not provide food for their children, they could not be found guilty of failing to provide necessaries of life.
The state of mind of the person who committed a criminal act determines whether they have committed a crime or not. The Crown Prosecutor must prove that the accused person intended to commit the criminal act.
Different criminal offences require different states of mind. Most require one of intention, recklessness or negligence. On the other hand, most provincial offences do not require proof of a "guilty mind". An example is speeding. In a speeding offence, what the driver was thinking or whether they intended to drive over the speed limit is not relevant.
For many crimes the accused must have intended to do what they did. For example, the offence of theft requires that the accused person knowingly took something that was not theirs. A shopper who genuinely forgot to pay for something before leaving a store would not be guilty of theft because they didn't have a criminal intent.
In some cases people are criminally responsible for the unintended results of their actions. Recklessness is when a person realizes that there is a certain risk involved, but commits the act anyway, regardless of the risk. For example, the charge of murder can result from either intention or recklessness. One part of the definition of murder says a person is guilty of murder if they intend to cause another person's death. Another part says a person is guilty of murder if a victim dies of injuries the accused caused, when the accused knew that the injuries were likely to cause death and was reckless concerning whether the victim died or not.
Some crimes only require the person to be negligent. Negligence is failing to act the way a responsible person would act in the same circumstances. Where the definition of a crime includes negligence, a person can be guilty of criminal behaviour without actually thinking about the result. A common example of criminal negligence occurs in driving cases. A person can be found guilty of criminal negligence if another person is injured or killed in a car accident as a result of the accused person's criminally negligent driving. For example, a driver may be found criminally negligent if their actions are far below the standard of a cautious and careful driver and if these actions caused the accident. The driver may be guilty even if they did not realize their behaviour could cause an accident.
Proving what the accused person was thinking at the time of the crime can be difficult. Only the accused person knows what they were thinking. The Crown Prosecutor must rely on proof that a criminal act occurred and proof of statements or actions surrounding the criminal act that show what the person was thinking. For example, in a murder case, proof that the accused person threatened to "get" the person who was killed may be accepted as evidence.
PLEA can provide you with information to help you understand many legal matters you, a family member or friend may be facing.