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Criminal Charge vs. Conviction

Many individuals who consult a Toronto Criminal Lawyer fail to recognize the distinction between being charged with a criminal offence and being convicted of a criminal offence. Criminal lawyers must ensure to clearly explain this distinction to their clients to alleviate any confusion.

Another careful distinction that needs to be cautiously explained by a Toronto Criminal Lawyer is the distinction between the evidence required to charge someone and the evidence and level of proof required to convict someone of a criminal offence. Jurisprudence has clearly established that the threshold for being charged with an offence is substantially lower than the threshold requirement for being convicted of a criminal offence.

Police officers merely require reasonable and probable grounds based on a subjective and objective component, which can be satisfied with a scintilla of evidence that an offence was committed. Conversely, the Crown Attorney bears the onus to prove every element of a criminal offence beyond a reasonable doubt, which is much closer to a standard of reasonable certainty.

The troubling part is that even when an individual is charged with a criminal offence and later found not guilty of that offence information relating to the offence still remains amongst the courts and police forces. This is referred to as “non-conviction” information and includes the following: withdrawn charges, acquittals and even complaints where charges were never laid.

Most people are already aware of the fact that a criminal record can deny them a job, volunteer position and even entry into the United States. What is less commonly known and should be of great concern for Canadians is that even being charged with an offence may result in similar negative consequences. Certain criminal background checks divulge more information than just convictions. These more thorough searches are referred to as “Police Information Checks” or “Vulnerable Sector Checks” and frequently disclose a wide range of non-conviction information.

A country such as Canada where the hallmark of the legal system is based on the presumption of innocence should be vigilant in protecting non-conviction information as it directly compromises the individual privacy, dignity and equality rights of individuals. The prejudicial treatment of individuals who have only been charged with an offence and found not guilty does not accord with the values enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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