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Criminal laws in Toronto cover a wide spectrum of offences. These offences fall into either indictable or summary conviction categories based on the laws enacted by Canada. Some are hybrid and the Crown gets to choose whether to charge them as indictable or summary.

The best Toronto criminal lawyers have experience in a variety of cases. They will also be familiar with the specific practices and customs of each courthouse.

Indictable offences

Many people are charged with criminal offences they never even saw as being a crime at the time and often face a life of prison, a permanent criminal record and the inability to travel to other countries. They were probably surprised to find themselves being arrested for trespassing, mischief or other minor crimes when they went out and about.

The Crown can decide whether to proceed as a summary or indictable offence. The Crown will evaluate your criminal history and the nature and seriousness of the offence when making this decision.

Indictable offences include murder, robbery, and drug trafficking. These offences usually carry much higher jail sentences than other crimes. Indictable offences can be heard in either the provincial or Superior Court of Justice. You can elect to have a preliminary hearing (“PH”) and you can also choose whether you want a judge only or a jury trial. There are certain offences that are “absolute jurisdiction” where you do not have the right to elect a PH and must be tried by a judge alone (these include theft under $5,000, fraud under $5000 and nuisance offences).)

Summary conviction offences

Canada’s Criminal Code divides crimes into two categories: indictable offences and summary conviction offences. Indictable offences are more serious, while summary conviction offences are less serious. For instance, if you trespassed on someone’s property and caused a disturbance, the police might charge you with a summary conviction offence. A judge hears summary conviction proceedings in provincial court. These offences can result in a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Unlike indictable offences, you can’t elect to have your summary conviction case heard by jury. However, you can choose to have your case decided by judge alone. A judge decides whether an accused person will have a preliminary inquiry or trial by jury, depending on the nature of their charges and previous record.

Many offences can be charged as either a summary or indictable offence, and these are referred to as hybrid offences. Your experienced criminal lawyer can help you petition the Crown to have your case dealt with as a summary offence to avoid more severe penalties.

Dual procedure offences

The Crown has the discretion to choose whether or not a particular criminal offence will be prosecuted by summary conviction procedure or by indictable offences. This is referred to as the hybrid or dual procedure category of crimes. For example, an act of mischief resulting in damage to a property could be pursued as either a dual or an indictable offense.

An accused person’s constitutional right to know the prosecution case against them is guaranteed by s. 497 CC. This is also referred to as disclosure and includes any information the Crown (prosecutor) has in its possession, even if it does not intend to produce that evidence in court.

Pure summary conviction offences are the least serious and include acts such as public nudity or trespassing at night. However, the majority of crimes are actually hybrid and can be prosecuted by either method. These include assault, theft under $5,000 and impaired driving. Before the Crown decides which mode of prosecution to pursue, these offences are fingerprinted and considered indictable until the Crown makes its election.


The Criminal Code establishes the punishments for different offences. Some of the penalties include life imprisonment, with varying periods of parole ineligibility. Other penalties are fines and probation. A guilty conviction for murder, for example, can lead to life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum jail term.

For most indictable offences, the accused can choose to have a preliminary inquiry and trial by jury or judge alone. However, all homicide cases are always tried by a jury.

A criminal lawyer in Toronto may be able to convince the Crown that it is not in society’s interest to imprison the accused or give them a permanent record. They will attempt to get the Crown Attorney to drop or withdraw charges. The defence may also try to mitigate the offence, such as referring the accused to counselling for alcohol or drug abuse, anger management, relationship boundaries, jealousy etc. This can sometimes result in charges being withdrawn or discharged by the Crown.