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Read the Legal Glossary from Donnell Law Group

At Donnell Law Group, our experienced lawyers serving southern Ontario believe in educating our clients and empowering you with the information you need to make wise legal decisions. For your benefit, we’ve provided definitions to common legal terms in our glossary below. From criminal law to estate planning, Donnell Law Group offers a wide range of legal services from experienced lawyers.

Absolute Discharge

This is a guilty finding that does not result in a criminal record. It is a finding after a trial or by an early guilty plea by an accused. Information relating to the discharge is removed from law enforcement computers after a period of time, effectively becoming the equivalent of a pardon.

Accused

In the Canadian justice system, a person charged with a criminal offence is referred to as the accused. In the American justice system, the term defendant is usually used.

Acquittal

This is the verdict when the Crown has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the crime in question. This decision may be made by either a judge or jury, depending on the circumstances of the trial.

Adjournment

An adjournment is a suspension of court proceedings to a later time. When you attend court for the first time, your matter will likely be adjourned to a date in the future to give you time to speak with a lawyer, if you have not already done so.

Affidavit

This is a written statement which is sworn under oath to be true. Affidavits are often used as evidence in court proceedings.

Appeal

If either party is dissatisfied with the outcome of legal proceedings, an appeal can be made to a higher judicial jurisdiction requesting a review.

Appearance Notice

In criminal law, a Promise to Appear is a legal document that requires the accused to appear in court to answer the charge(s) against them. A failure to appear may result in a bench warrant being issued and additional charges being laid.

Arrest

Following a criminal charge, an arrest is the act of placing an individual into custody. The intention may be to continue investigating the crime or to prevent the accused from potentially committing a further offence.

Bail

When an individual has been brought into police custody following an arrest, the accused will appear before a judicial officer who will ascertain whether or not he/she should be released or held in custody awaiting trial. If a judicial officer concludes that an individual should be released on bail, then the accused must make a payment (bail) to be used as security in ensuring that he/she attends future court proceedings.

Bail Hearing

This is a court proceeding to determine if the individual should be allowed to be released from custody pending their trial. A consideration at a bail hearing is whether the accused is likely to flee or attend their court appearance as directed. Another consideration is the likelihood that the accused will re-offend.

Bail Review

If an adult is denied bail, then he/she can bring an application for bail review to the Superior Court of Justice.

Bond

In criminal law, a bond is a formal written agreement made to the court to carry out a legal obligation.

Charge

In criminal law, a charge is an accusation involving a particular offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. Charges are formally read to a defendant in an arraignment.

Charter

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a component of our constitution which guarantees Canadian citizens a range of civil rights and individual freedoms.

Concurrent Sentence

Two or more terms of imprisonment served simultaneously.

Conditional Discharge

A conditional discharge is a finding of guilt with conditions. No criminal record is entered against the accused; therefore there is no record of conviction. It is the record of conviction that constitutes a ‘criminal record’.

Conditional Sentence

Where a sentence of imprisonment of less than 2 years is given, the judge may order that the sentence be served in the community subject to conditions. This type of sentence is only available under very specific situations and circumstances.

Consecutive Sentence

Two or more terms of imprisonment served one after the other.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

This is federal legislation which controls the possession and distribution of drugs as well as other dangerous substances.

Conviction

In criminal law, a conviction is a formal decision made by a court that the accused is guilty. A conviction results in a criminal record.

Crime

In Canada, all crimes are legislated by the federal government. However, not all federal offences are crimes. Some are just regulatory offences. Criminal offences are those offences established in the Criminal Code of Canada, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and the Firearms Act.

Criminal Code of Canada

The Criminal Code is federal legislation which has codified most criminal offences as well as the elements of criminal procedure in Canada.

Crown Attorney

In criminal law, a Crown Attorney is a qualified lawyer whose duty is to prosecute individuals for criminal offences on the behalf of the Government of Canada (also referred to as the Crown).

Crown Prosecution

A prosecution commenced by a peace officer or representative of the Crown.

Dangerous Offender

An individual who has been convicted of a serious crime(s) and is considered to be likely to re-offend.

Defence

A legal argument offered by an accused party which demonstrates why the accused should not be found guilty.

Defence Counsel

In criminal law, defence counsel is a qualified lawyer who represents an accused individual in formal court proceedings.

Discharge

When an accused has been found guilty in criminal proceedings, a discharge can be issued by a judge as a sentence.

Disclosure

In criminal law, disclosure is the act of making available certain materials and documents.

Diversion

This is a way to resolve a case. The charges are withdrawn if the accused person accepts responsibility for their act and completes specified tasks. These tasks may include counselling, community service or other activities. There is no criminal record with a diversion.

Fine A fine assessed under the Criminal Code of Canada carries with it a criminal record. The more familiar fine under the Highway Traffic Act does not. Hybrid Offence

This is a term applied to a criminal offence which may be tried in several possible ways at the option of the prosecutor. A hybrid offence is an indictable offence until the Crown elects to proceed by way of summary conviction. The difference is in the process followed.

Imprisonment

The act of confining someone to a jail or prison.

Indictable Offence

These are more serious criminal offences that carry longer maximum sentences and higher fines. The court proceedings are more complex for these offences. These offences correspond to the English or American classification of Felony.

Indictment

An indictment is the piece of paper which details to the Superior Court the charge which has been committed.

Information

An information is the paper which provides the details of charges in the Ontario Court of Justice. It is also the name of papers sworn to obtain warrants.

Intermittent Sentence This is a jail sentence that may be served on weekends to allow the inmate to attend work during the week. It may be imposed if the period of jail sentence is 90 days or less.

Jail

Jail is confinement at a correctional institution. If the period of jail is less than 2 years, it will be served at a provincial detention centre. If the period of confinement is greater than 2 years, the term will be served at a federal prison.

Judge

A judge is a magistrate of the Ontario Court of Justice empowered to hear trials or preside over preliminary hearings, bail hearings and supervise the court process.

Judicial Pretrial

Some cases require judicial pretrial prior to trial. Estimates for time and witnesses are discussed as well as applications or motion issues. The strength or weakness of a case is considered and an attempt may be made to resolve the case before going to trial.

Justice

A justice is a magistrate of the Superior Court of Justice empowered to hear criminal and civil trials.

Justice of the Peace

This is a judicial officer who has the authority to do a variety of things in criminal matters. A Justice of the Peace presides over bail hearings, sets dates in the Ontario Court of Justice and hears provincial offence cases in Provincial Offences Court.

Legal Aid

Legal advice and services primarily funded by the government in order to help those who are financially unable to retain a lawyer. Legal Aid Ontario administers Ontario’s legal aid program, which includes legal aid clinics, duty counsel and certificates for private lawyers.

Mentally Incapable

Different levels of capacity are required for different types of decisions and actions. An individual may be deemed mentally incapable if they cannot understand relevant information or cannot appreciate what may happen as the result of decisions they make or do not make.

No Contact Order

An order forbidding a person from contacting named person(s).

Pardon

A process that allows people convicted of a criminal offence to have their criminal record kept separate from other criminal records. All information regarding the conviction(s) will be taken out of the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) and may not be disclosed.

Parole

The early release of a prisoner.

Peace Bond

A peace bond is a promise made by a person to abide by the conditions of a court order. This is not an admission of guilt and usually results in the withdrawal of the charge against the accused. The person pledging the bond is also required to pledge an amount of money that would be forfeit if terms are breached.

Perjury

An intentional lie given under oath or affirmation. It is a criminal offence.

Plea

The declaration made by a person accused of a crime as to whether he/she is guilty or not guilty of the charge.

Plea Bargain (Resolution Discussions)

Negotiated agreement between a prosecutor and an accused (and his/her lawyer) to settle a criminal case.

Precedent

A judicial decision or judgment that is quoted as the authority for deciding a similar situation.

Preliminary Hearing

A hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to commit an accused person to be tried.

Preliminary Inquiry

The procedure conducted by a provincial court to determine whether the Crown has sufficient evidence for a trial. At the conclusion of the inquiry, the accused will either be discharged or ordered (committed) to stand trial.

Private Prosecution

A prosecution commenced by a member of the public, as opposed to a peace officer.

Probation

Probation is intended to be a rehabilitative tool rather than a punitive tool. This is accomplished by attaching conditions which typically include reporting to a probation officer.

Promise to Appear

A paper which an accused must sign in order to be released after they are arrested. The Promise to Appear documents their court date. If the accused does not attend, they will be charged with failure to appear, for which the Crown quite often seeks a jail sentence.

Prosecution

A proceeding in which an accused person is tried.

Prosecutor

A legal officer who represents the federal, provincial or municipal government in proceedings.

Recognizance

A legislated form used by the court that sets out the terms under which a person will be released on bail or on a peace bond, and when he/she is expected to return to appear before the court.

Remand

To adjourn a hearing to a future date, most often used in criminal cases when the accused is in custody.

Restitution

An order requiring a convicted person to restore property to its rightful owner, provide compensation for a loss or repair damage caused.

Search Warrant

An order issued by a justice under statutory powers, authorizing a named person to enter a specified place to search for and seize specified property which will provide evidence of the actual or intended commission of an offence.

Sentence

The penalty imposed on the finding of guilt.

Show Cause Hearing

A hearing where the prosecutor must ‘show cause’ that the accused should be held in custody until the trial. (See also Bail Hearing.)

Solicitor-Client Privilege

The confidentiality of communications between a lawyer and client as they relate to seeking, forming or giving legal advice.

Stay of Proceedings

Suspension of the proceedings against the accused. The case is stopped before an acquittal or conviction is entered.

Subpoena

A document that compels a person to attend proceedings as a witness in order to give testimony.

Summary Conviction Offence

A Summary Conviction Offence is considered less serious than other offences but is still criminal in nature. They carry lower maximum penalties and are subject to less complex court procedures. These matters are heard in the Ontario Court of Justice. This classification corresponds to the English or American classification of Misdemeanour.

Summons (to Witness)

A document issued by a court, agency, board or commission, or another person, requiring a person to attend and to produce documents or other things.

Sureties

A surety is a person who will act as a supervisor. Someone who will ensure that the accused person attends court, does not breach his/her conditions of release and does not re-offend. A surety typically is asked to pledge a sum of money to guarantee their supervision.

Suspended Sentence

A suspended sentence is the release of a convicted person on certain conditions. It generally has probation requirements associated with it.

Variation

A change to a court order or other legal document, made on the authority of a court.

Victim Impact Statement

A written statement prepared by victims describing the impact of the offence on their life.

Victim Surcharge

An offender, who is convicted or discharged of an offence under the Criminal Code, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or Provincial Offences Act, must pay a victim surcharge in addition to any other punishment imposed on the offender.

Warrant

A judicial order directing a peace officer to do something such as arrest someone, search or seize something, or enforce a judicial order.

Withdrawal

The Crown agrees to drop or withdraw the case because there is no reasonable prospect of conviction.

Witness

A witness provides evidence, usually during a trial.