Criminal Law Glossary (1:App F)

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on August 4, 2021.



Absolute Discharge

  • An accused pleads guilty or is found guilty but has no conditions or probation period imposed. There will be no conviction on the criminal record.

Accused

  • The person whom the Crown charges with a criminal offence.

Actus Reus

  • An essential element of the criminal offence; what the accused physically did to commit the crime.

Adjournment

  • A postponement; an accused or clinician can ask for this at an appearance if they need more time before deciding what to do about the charge.

Admission

  • A statement made by an accused to a civilian witness.

Agent

  • An appearance made by a person other than the accused acting on behalf of the accused.

Alternative Measures

  • A program offered by Crown to divert the offender away from the criminal justice system. No guilty plea is made and charges are stayed. An acknowledgement of guilty and expression of remorse are required by the client.

Appeal

  • Formally contesting the verdict or sentence.

Appearance Notice

  • A notice provided by a police officer requiring the accused to attend court at a certain date and time.

Arraignment Hearing

  • A hearing in front of a Judge or JP where the accused decides whether to plead guilty or go to trial.

Bail

  • Refers to the release (or detention) of a person charged with a criminal offence prior to a trial or guilty plea.

Bail Conditions

  • Release conditions imposed on an accused that they must abide by in order to be released from custody prior to trial or plea.

Bench Warrant

  • A bench warrant is an order issued by a judge requesting the detention of a person until they can appear in court. Such an order is often issued because a defendant did not appear in court.

Complainant

  • The person who usually makes the report to the police about having been the victim of a crime.

Conditional Discharge

  • A period of probation imposed on an accused where after the period is complete, no convictions will appear on a criminal record.

Conditional Sentence

  • A conditional sentence is a jail sentence that you serve in the community instead of jail. Judges will use a conditional sentence only if they are satisfied that you won’t be a danger to the community and do not have a history of failing to obey court orders.

Confession

  • A statement of guilt made to a police officer or another person in authority.

Cross-Examination

  • The interrogation (leading questions) of a witness called by the other side.

Crown Counsel

  • Lawyers appointed by the government who prosecute criminal cases.

Custodial Sentence

  • A sentence served in jail.

Detention

  • A suspension of an individual’s liberty by physical or psychological restraint.

Direct Examination

  • Where the defence or Crown questions its own witnesses.

Disposition

  • If a matter in court is “for disposition,” this means there will be a guilty plea instead of a full trial.

Duty Counsel

  • Lawyers paid by the government who work in the court house and advise accused with basic legal information and basic court appearances.

Election

  • For indictable offences, where the accused can decide whether to have their case tried in Provincial Court or Supreme Court (and with or without a jury).

Ex Parte

  • Proceeding without the accused present.

Hearsay

  • Evidence that is offered by a witness of which they do not have direct knowledge but, rather, their testimony is based on what others have said to them.

Hybrid Offence

  • An offence where the Crown can choose to proceed either summarily or by indictment. The majority of Criminal Code offences are hybrid.

Judicial Case Manager

  • A JP who controls the calendar for the court and sets trial dates.

Justice of the Peace (JP)

  • A person appointed by the government to conduct certain tasks in court (like initial appearances), fix trial dates, and hear bail applications.

Indictable Offence

  • A more serious criminal offence where the maximum sentence could be life imprisonment. There is no time limit to when charges can be laid (e.g., an accused can be charged 20 years after an act has occurred). The exception to this point is treason, which has a 3-year limitation period.

Information

  • The document which sets out the specific offences the accused is charged with.

Initial Appearance(s)

  • An appearance before a JP or Judge where the accused can decide how to proceed. There can be multiple initial appearances.

Initial Sentencing Position

  • The sentence Crown would seek if the accused were to plead guilty and not go to trial.

Insufficient Evidence Motion

  • A motion made by defence at trial claiming Crown has not proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

K-File

  • A file where the accused and complainant are family members. The most common is spousal assault.

Mens Rea

  • An essential (mental) element of the criminal offence (an intention to commit the crime).

No Evidence Motion

  • When the Crown has presented the case against you, if you feel that they have failed to prove all the things that had to be proved, you can make a no-evidence motion. This means that you are asking the judge to dismiss the case, without hearing the defence evidence.

Particulars

  • The disclosure package provided to the accused by the Crown containing all of the relevant evidence in the Crown’s case against the accused.

Preliminary Inquiry

  • A hearing held in provincial court to determine if there is enough evidence to move forward to the trial in Supreme Court. The Preliminary Inquiry is available to all accused persons charged with offences that proceed by way of indictment. A preliminary inquiry is a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. A preliminary inquiry is not a trial.

Pre-Sentence Report

  • A report that can be ordered by a judge after a guilty plea has been entered and prior to sentencing in order to recommend an appropriate sentence for the accused.

Report to Crown Counsel

  • Summary of the police narrative and any witness statements taken with respect to the case.

Sentence

  • What punishment the judge decides the accused should be subject to when found guilty.

Summary Conviction Offence

  • A less serious offence where the maximum jail term is usually 6 months and maximum fine is $5,000.

Summons

  • A written order by a judge or JP requiring the accused to attend court at a certain date and time.

The Bar of the Court

  • The partition in the courtroom between where the lawyers sit and where the general public sits.

Vacating a Warrant

  • In order to vacate a bench warrant, the client will need to appear before a judge and apply to be re-released on bail.

Verdict

  • After the trial, the judge returns a finding of guilty or not guilty.

Voir Dire

  • An in-trial hearing that is considered a separate hearing from the trial itself. It is known as a "trial within a trial" and is designed to determine an issue separate from the procedure or admissibility of evidence.

Witness

  • Anyone called to give evidence at a trial.