Written by Richard J. Aitken, Lawyer, and LM Landry, Lawyer.
One of the most important decisions in trying a serious criminal law case is whether to elect trial by jury or by judge alone. This choice is not available in all cases.
Summary conviction offences and absolute jurisdiction offences must be tried without a jury. An exception is an absolute jurisdiction offence being tried together with another indictable offence that is going before a jury. A provincial court judge may change a trial before them into a preliminary hearing and convert an election to an election to be tried by the superior court with a jury. This is a rare situation.
Another unusual occurrence can happen if the Attorney General directs that a case be tried by a jury. For example, this might happen if co-accused persons elect different modes of trial rather than having separate trials.
Different provisions apply to young persons being tried under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Generally speaking in indictable offences outside of the circumstances above an accused person gets to choose whether or not they want a jury trial.
Once it is established that you have a choice, various factors may contribute to what choice you make. Frequently jury trials are more expensive and take longer than trials by judge alone. Some issues may be better suited to be heard by a jury, others by a judge. The trial strategy itself may impact the choice. Different lawyers may recommend different elections but this is ultimately a choice the accused person makes.
One factor to keep in mind is that it is difficult to appeal a jury verdict as opposed to a trial heard by a judge sitting alone.
**This article is not intended to provide legal advice and is for information and entertainment only. For legal advice specific to your situation please make an appointment.**