Learn legal terms used in the criminal justice system

Absolute discharge

  • The person is free to go.
  • No conviction is registered against the person.
  • This is the lightest sentence available to the court.


  • The person charged with the offence.
  • The person has yet to be convicted.


The court found the accused not guilty of the charges.


The court case is temporarily moved to another time or date.


  • To suggest that something happened.
  • To suggest that a person committed a crime.


  • To have a trial decision reviewed by a higher court.
  • This is not a new trial.
  • Witnesses do not give evidence.


  • Money or property left with the court.
  • This guarantees the accused will return to court for a preliminary inquiry or trial.

Beyond a reasonable doubt

The level of proof required by the court to find an accused guilty.


A formal accusation that someone committed a crime.

Circuit court

  • This is a travelling court.
  • It visits the communities to hold court sittings.

Civil Law

Law that deals with disputes between private individuals or businesses.


The person who says that a crime was committed.

Conditional discharge

  • A person is found guilty of committing an offence.
  • The court orders the guilty person to follow certain conditions for a set period of time.
  • There is no jail term or other punishment.

Conditional sentence

  • The sentence is served in the community.
  • Conditions are similar to those of a probation order.
  • If conditions are not adhered to, the remainder of sentence may be served in prison.


The court finds the accused guilty of the offence.

Court of appeal

A superior court that hears appeals from decisions of lower courts.


The lawyer who did not call the witness to testify, questions them.

Crown prosecutor

  • The lawyer representing the state.
  • They prosecute the criminal charge against the accused.
  • The crown prosecutor presents the evidence against the accused.

Defence counsel

The lawyer representing the accused.


Legal action is taken against this person.


Absolute discharge:

  • An accused, although guilty, is not convicted of the criminal offence.
  • The accused:
    • is given no punishment; and
    • will not have a criminal record.

Conditional discharge:

  • The offender is placed under certain conditions.
  • If the offender keeps to all of the conditions, then they will:
    • be discharged; and
    • not have a criminal record.


  • The information the police and the crown have about the case.
  • Disclosure has to provided by the crown to the defence lawyer.


Instead of going through the traditional court system, the accused is dealt with through alternative measures, such as participating in a:

  • treatment; or
  • support program.


  • Witness testimony or objects identified by witnesses.
  • Presented to the court to help it reach a decision.

Gladue report

  • A pre-sentence report that's sometimes ordered for a First Nation offender.
  • It describes the offender’s background and First Nation heritage.


  • The decision by the judge or jury that the accused did commit the alleged crime.
  • The accused may admit guilt by pleading guilty in court.

Indictable offence

  • A category of more serious criminal offences.
  • These carry greater maximum sentences.
  • There's no time limit on when the crown can prosecute these.


  • The person with the authority to hear a case in court.
  • They make a decision about the guilt or innocence of the accused.


Judges who sit at all levels of court.

No-contact order

The court orders the accused to not see or speak to someone (often the victim who was harmed).


This is a crime.


A person convicted of a crime.


  • When a witness gives evidence in court that they know is not true.
  • Perjury is a serious crime.


  • The response given by the accused when charged with an offence.
  • They plead “guilty” or “not guilty."

Plea bargaining

Negotiations between crown and defence counsel about the charges:

  • against the accused; and
  • the plea to be entered.

Preliminary inquiry

A hearing to see if there's enough evidence against an accused to have a trial.

Pre-sentence report

  • A report prepared by a probation officer prior to a sentencing hearing.
  • The report helps the judge determine an appropriate sentence for the offender.
  • The report may include information, such as:
    • the accused’s family background;
    • education; and
    • employment.


  1. The accused is found guilty.
  2. The court orders the accused to obey certain conditions for a certain period of time.


  1. A person is accused of a crime.
  2. Charges are laid.
  3. Legal proceedings start.


A court orders the offender to pay to a victim financial costs associated with the offence to a victim.


The punishment given to an accused found guilty of a crime.

Sentencing hearing

  1. An accused is found guilty.
  2. The presentation of evidence to the court to help the judge decide on the sentence.


A court order telling a witness when and where they have to appear before the court.

Summary conviction offence

  • A category of less-serious criminal offences
  • Usually carry lower sentences.
  • The crown must prosecute summary offences within 6 months of the offence.


A person thought to have committed a crime.

Suspended sentence

A court places the offender under a probation order instead of imposing a sentence.

The court will not impose a sentence on the offender, if:

  • the offender follows all of the conditions of the order; and
  • does not commit a new offence,


To make statements in court under oath.


  • A hearing where the crown and the defence present evidence.
  • The court makes a decision.


When the court decides if a person is:

  • guilty; or
  • innocent.


The person against whom a crime was committed.

Victim fine surcharge

  • A fine imposed on an offender.
  • The territorial government adds the fine to funds that service and assist victims of crime.

Victim-impact statement

  • This is written by a victim.
  • Describes the impact and harm the victim has suffered because of the crime.
  • The judge considers the statement when determining a sentence for the offender.


A person who testifies in court because they have information about the case.

Young offender

A young person between 12 and 17 years of age:

  • who has committed a criminal offence; and
  • will be dealt with under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Youth Court

Deals with criminal charges laid against young offenders.