Domestic Assault Cases Toronto: A Step-By-Step Summary of How These Cases Proceed

Andrew Captan, Toronto Criminal Lawyer - Interior

Domestic Assault Cases Toronto: A Step-By-Step Summary of How These Cases Proceed


Domestic Assault cases in Toronto make up a significant portion of criminal cases within the court system.    Families are routinely broken up as a result of these charges, given that, in almost all of these cases, there will be contact restrictions imposed on the parties involved.  Criminal Lawyers often get calls from individuals charged with Domestic Assault, wondering what to do next; what will happen to them, ultimately; and, most commonly, when will they be able to re-unite with their loved ones.  This blogpost outlines the most common steps involved in a Domestic Assault case, from the beginning to the end of the court process.

Charging Phase

The first step, of course, is for a charge to be laid.  There are a variety of different types of charges that are laid in the “domestic” context, including Assault, Assault with Weapon, Assault Causing Bodily Harm, Uttering Threats and Criminal Harassment.

The police will either charge the accused person and release them on a promise to appear with an undertaking to follow certain conditions or hold the accused for a bail hearing.  In either case, the accused will have to follow certain conditions, including to have no contact with their partner.

Once the charge is laid, a first appearance in court will be set, along with a date to complete fingerprints (if that wasn’t done already).

Can Anything Be Done Prior to A First Appearance?

Individuals who have been separated from their families / partners, understandably, wish to expedite their case and move things along as quickly as possible, in order to get back home or to re-unite with a loved one.  Generally speaking, the start of the criminal court process commences at the first appearance.  However, there is a law that allows accused individuals to bring a motion to a Judge prior to a first appearance, requesting a Judge to change their conditions around in order to, for example, return home to a loved one.  This legal rule applies to individuals released on an Undertaking to a Peace Officer.

The section of the Criminal Code of Canada that permits this is s. 502(2). This section came into force on December 18, 2019.   Other than bringing this type of motion, which is not a common one to bring, the accused must wait until the first appearance in Court.

The First Appearance

The first appearance in court is an administrative court date.  It is not a trial.  It is not a lengthy hearing.  No witnesses attend.  The main purpose of the appearance is for the Crown to provide the accused (or the accused’s lawer) “disclosure”, which is the evidence compiled against the accused.  One disclosure is received, the matter will normally be adjourned for 3 to 4 weeks, so that the accused’s lawyer can review the disclosure and conduct a meeting with the Crown — called a Crown pre-trial.

The Crown pre-trial

A Crown pre-trial usually takes place between the first and second appearance, if everything moves as efficiently as possible.  The meeting involves the Crown and defence discussing the case, including: (a) the prospect of resolving the case, and what resolution might be acceptable to both sides; (b) legal issues that might be argued if the case goes to trial; (c) the background of the accused and any steps that were completed by the accused to-date.

Depending on how this pre-trial goes, the case may go in one of two directions.

The Resolution Direction

If the Crown and Defence are able to come to terms on a resolution, then steps would be taken to effect this resolution.  This might include the accused doing counselling, which is a common requirement in Domestic Assault cases.  If a resolution is agreed upon, the Crown commonly agrees to change an accused’s release conditions, allowing the acccused and their partner to re-unite (if that’s what the partner wishes).    A Domestic Violence case lasts, on average, between 4-6 months from the date of the first appearance.

The Trial Direction

If, after pre-trial discussions, the Defence and Crown have not agreed on terms to a resolution of the case, then the only other option would be to set the matter down for trial.  A trial is a formal hearing at which the Crown has the legal burden of proving the offence(s) against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.  The hearing, for a straighforward Domestic Assault case, normally lasts 1 day.   It usually takes between 12-14 months from a first appearance to secure a trial date.  The Crown is obligated to call witnesses at the trial, and the Defence gets to cross-examine each witness, advancing the defence of their client.  There are two potential outcomes of a trial:   a guilty or not guilty verdict.  If the accused is found not guilty, they are free to go without any further consequences. Their release conditions would no longer exist at that time.  If the accusd is found guilty, the next phase is Sentencing, which is where the Court determines what punishment to impose.

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