While facing a criminal offence may seem intimidating, learning the basics of criminal law and hiring a good criminal lawyer can help reduce some of your stress and anxiety. To help you better understand criminal law, we discuss the basics of criminal defence below.

Defining criminal offences 

The government has created laws prohibiting certain actions and punishes those who break these laws. When you’ve been charged with a crime, it means that you have been accused of a specific criminal offence under the Canadian Criminal Code. There are three main categories of criminal offences under the Criminal Code:

  • Summary conviction offences

Summary conviction offences are the least serious type of criminal offences. They include offences such as breaching a probation order, indecent acts or disturbing the peace. A person charged with a summary conviction offence is often not arrested unless they’re caught in the act of committing the offence. Instead, they are notified to appear in court on a particular date and time. A judge hears such cases in provincial court without a jury. It is not mandatory for the accused to appear in court. The maximum penalty for a summary conviction offence is usually a $5,000 fine or six months in jail.

  • Indictable offences

Indictable offences are more serious. These include murder, aggravated sexual assault, theft over $5,000, and breaking and entering. A person charged with indictable offences will be arrested by the police and must show up in court. Persons charged with an indictable offence can choose to have a trial with a provincial court judge, a supreme court judge alone, or a supreme court judge with a jury. The maximum penalty for indictable offences may vary and can include life imprisonment.

  • Hybrid offences

Hybrid offences, such as assault, can be considered indictable or summary offences based on factors such as the harm caused and the seriousness of the accused’s actions. The Crown Counsel determines how these offences will be handled.

Categories of criminal defence

For the prosecutor to convict you for a crime, they need to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You and your lawyer may present a defence to raise such a reasonable doubt during your trial. The following are categories of criminal defence:

  • Self-defence 

You can use this defence when you’re charged with causing physical harm. You can flip the story and present yourself as the victim instead of the aggressor and demonstrate that you were trying to protect yourself from harm.

  • Alibi

One of the ways you can prove that you didn’t commit a crime is by demonstrating that you couldn’t have done it. An alibi defence demonstrates that you were somewhere else or with someone else and therefore couldn’t have been the perpetrator.

  • Insanity

Pleading insanity in criminal cases rarely works and is considered an affirmative defence since you’ll be admitting that you committed the crime but under justifiable circumstances. When pleading insanity at the time of the crime, it’s up to your lawyer to prove beyond reasonable doubt that your mental illness made you commit the crime.

  • Substance intoxication

You can also claim that you were under the influence of drugs and could not have been in the mental state necessary to commit the crime. Your lawyers can also argue that you didn’t understand what you were doing or the nature of your actions because you were intoxicated. The validity of this defence will depend on whether the intoxication was involuntary or voluntary and the level of intent required by the charge.

  • Duress

Duress is a defence for criminal charges such as assault, where you argue that you were forced to cause harm by someone else under the threat of severe injury or death to you, your dependents or your family.

Are you looking for a criminal lawyer in Vancouver?

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Vancouver, contact the office of Tom Doust.

Tom Doust is a criminal defence lawyer with more than 20 years of experience handling all criminal matters. His expertise and successful trial record make him the best lawyer to help you achieve a favourable outcome in your case.

Call us today at 604-618-7994 to schedule a free consultation.