Lesson 1: Introduction to Criminal Law


Activity 1: The Criminal Law

Use the answer key for Criminal Case Studies to complete your teacher assessment. Student responses can be graded on completion or a raw score.

Answer Key: Handout 1: Criminal Case Studies

Case 1

Marion asked Sarah to take care of her infant boy for a few days. Marion also asked Sarah to give the infant a teaspoonful of “medicine” every night. In fact, the medicine was poison. Sarah did not think that the infant needed medicine so she did not give it to him. She put the medicine on a shelf in her living room. Later, Sarah’s five-year-old son gave the infant a large dose of the ‘medicine’ and the infant died. Marion was charged with murder.

Is Sarah or Marion guilty of murder? Explain.
Sarah would not be guilty of any crime because 1) she did not cause the death of the infant 2) she had no knowledge of the poison in the bottle 3) she did not give the infant the poison. Marion could be found guilty of murder if the Crown could prove she knowingly put poison in the medicine bottle and could reasonably have expected it would be given to the infant boy and that he would die.

Case 2

Eva, Donna, and Claudia are walking through the park when they see their enemy Jim walking with a friend. They decide to “have some fun.” So Donna and Claudia hold back Jim’s friend while Eva punches and kicks him. Donna and Claudia laugh and yell their support to Eva. Meanwhile Mike, who is walking his dog, stops for a moment to see what is going on. Mike decides not to get involved and walks on. Eva is convicted of assault causing bodily harm.

Should Donna or Claudia be charged with an offence? Explain.
Donna, Eva, and Claudia are parties to an assault causing bodily harm. They formed an intention in common to hurt (assuming that is what “have some fun” meant) Jim and to assist each other to do so. Donna and Claudia also assisted Eva by holding back Jim’s friend to allow her to punch and kick Jim, which also makes them parties to the assault. Their “yelling support” indicates their awareness that the assault was an anticipated part of the plan to “have some fun”, as well as their awareness that what they were doing assisted Eva.

What about Mike? Explain.
It is not a criminal offence in Canada to observe a criminal act and do nothing, though most Canadians would find it repugnant.

Case 3

Murray, Josie (Murray’s wife) and Rosa agree to steal some money from Pete’s clothing store. They also agree that Pete will not be harmed and that no weapons will be used. Murray enters the store and gets Pete’s attention by asking him questions about an article of clothing. Then Josie enters the store and walks toward the cash register while Rosa acts as a lookout near the store entrance. Pete notices Josie reaching into the drawer of the cash register and yells loudly. Rosa panics, pulls a gun, and shoots Pete, severely wounding him. Murray, Josie, and Rosa run from the store and go to Russ’s apartment around the corner. Russ agrees to let them use his car and Murray, Josie, and Rosa drive to a hiding place. Pete later dies from the wound he received.

Explain the criminal acts of Murray, Josie, Rosa, and Russ.
Josie, Murray and Rosa planned to commit a theft and all would be guilty of that offence. They all took an active part in assisting one another to carry out the theft, as well. Rosa would be guilty of robbery (theft with violence) and murder. Josie and Murray would only be parties to those offences if it could be proven that the use of a weapon and harm to someone was something they knew or ought to have known. As the fact pattern specifically indicates the plan was for no violence or weapons, this would not likely be able to be proven. Russ would be found guilty of aiding and abetting a criminal act by knowingly allowing them to use his car to flee the area. The Crown would need to lead evidence showing that Russ knew they had just committed a crime and was assisting them.

Activity 2: Criminal Court Procedure

For Handout 3: What Do You Know? use the answer key and review the questions. Assign participation marks for individual students or mark the groups based on completion and accuracy of answers. Alternatively, have students hand the questions in for grading.

Answer Key: Handout 3: What do you know?

  1. Provide examples of criminal matters.
    Criminal-impaired driving, dangerous driving, theft, assault, criminal negligence causing death, murder.
  1. Which court hears the majority of criminal cases in BC?
    99% of all criminal cases begin and end in Provincial court.
  1. Which court hears the most serious criminal cases?
    Most serious criminal cases are heard in the Supreme Court of BC.
  1. Describe the role and responsibilities of each of the following court personnel: court clerk, sheriff and judge.
    Court Clerk-in charge of all exhibits and physical evidence and records the proceedings of the trial. Sheriff-manages courtroom security and escorts those accused detained in prison to and from court. Also does jury management. Judge-the sole arbitrator of the law as applied to a case and its facts. Also provides a judgment in non-jury trials.
  1. Why is the prosecuting lawyer called “Crown Counsel”?
    Prosecutors in Canada represent the people through the “Crown” because our Head of State is the Queen. When an accused is on trial, it is the state that is placing them on trial, thus we refer to the lawyer of the state as the Crown Counsel/ Prosecutor. Civil cases are between private individuals or bodies and the state has no role in such litigation unless it is being sued or is suing someone. In the latter case, a lawyer would present the case for the government just like they would for any other defendant or plaintiff.
  1. How many jurors sit on criminal matters? How many must agree in a criminal case?
    12 jurors. Criminal juries must be unanimous in finding an accused guilty or not guilty.
  1. Describe the four ways in which an accused can be brought to court.
    An accused can be brought to court on arrest with warrant, arrest without warrant, a promise to appear, an appearance notice or a summons to appear.
  1. What is an “information” and how is it obtained? What is its purpose?
    An information is used to charge the accused with the crime. A police officer who knows the facts that form the basis for the charge swears before a justice of the peace that he or she believes there are reasonable grounds to believe the offence has been committed and signs the information to initiate or start a case.
  1. What is a Promise to Appear (PTA)?
    A Promise to Appear is given to a person that has been arrested and released by the police. It is a personal guarantee to show up to court on the date provided.
  1. What are the options for the court when deciding what to do with a person arrested without a warrant?
    The court may release the accused on an Undertaking to Appear, which is the accused’s promise to attend court, with or without prescribed conditions added with the intent of controlling the accused’s behaviour in the community. The court may release the accused on a Recognizance in a monetary amount, with or without deposit or surety, with or without conditions or the court may detain the accused in custody pending trial.
  1. What is a “first appearance”? What happens if an accused fails to meet his/her first appearance?
    The first appearance is where an accused, or his or her lawyer (counsel), makes an election if charged with an indictable offence, enters a plea to the charge(s) and/or asks for time to retain counsel. If the accused has been arrested and is not appearing as the result of an Appearance Notice, a PTA or a summons, the issue of whether or not an accused can be released on bail pending trial is often decided at the first appearance. It may take time for the accused and counsel to decide what to do about the charge so there may be a number of appearances. If the accused decides to plead guilty then sentencing may be done on a different date because a pre-sentence report may have to be prepared by a probation officer. If the accused pleads not guilty then a date for the trial or preliminary hearing is set depending on the type of offence. If an accused does not appear when he or she has been served with a Summons, given an Appearance Notice or been released on a PTA, the court will issue a warrant for their arrest.
  1. What is a preliminary hearing and why is it an important step in the criminal court process?
    The preliminary inquiry is in Provincial Court before a case is heard in Supreme Court. At this stage, evidence is presented to the judge because the Crown must prove there is sufficient evidence to bring the accused to trial in the Supreme Court. The accused does not have to present evidence at this time.
  1. List and describe the three different categories of criminal offences. Provide an example of each type of offence.
  • Summary Conviction, Indictable and Hybrid offences.
  • Summary Conviction – trespass by night.          
  • Soliciting Indictable Offence – robbery Hybrid Offence – assault can be proceeded with as an indictable offence or as a summary conviction offence.
  • By indictment the maximum sentence would be 5 years; by summary conviction the maximum sentence would be 6 months and/or a fine up to $5000.
  1. In the criminal process what is an “election”? What types of offences have elections? Why?
    When an accused is charged with most indictable offences, he or she is given the choice of the mode of trial and can choose between a trial by a Provincial Court judge, a trial by a Supreme Court of BC judge alone or a trial by a Supreme Court of BC judge and jury. In some very serious cases such as murder, there must be a trial before a judge and jury unless both the accused and the Crown consent to a trial by a Supreme Court judge alone.

    Why is an election given for serious offences? It is a policy driven by part of the criminal common law, codified by the Criminal Code and protected by the constitution, based on our society’s belief that those charged with more serious offences have the right to a trial by their peers – in other words, a trial by jury.

Activity 3: Criminal Offences and Criminal Defences

Students can complete the activities on the first three pages of Handout 5: Working with Criminal Offences and Defences and submit them for marks. The class presentations for the Types of Defences can be marked according to the criteria.

AnswerKey: Handout 5: Working with Criminal Offences and Defences

Can You Name the Crime?

  1. Robbery
  2. Assault
  3. Possession of Drugs
  4. Trespassing by Night
  5. Breaking and Entering
  6. Failing to Stop
  7. Causing a Disturbance
  8. Parking in a "No-Parking" Zone
  9. Dog off Leash
  10. Mischief
  11. Theft

Match the Crime to Its Definition

  1. Having something in your possession or control that you knew was stolen.
    Possession of stolen property
  1. Lying to or deceiving someone to gain a personal benefit.
  1. Causing and intending to cause another person’s death.
    Second degree murder
  1. Intending to and killing someone according to a plan.
    First degree murder                              
  1. Using physical force and a weapon to take property away from someone.
    Armed robbery
  1. Disregarding and disobeying an order made by a judge.
    Contempt of court                                  
  1. Selling illegal or prohibited substances such as cocaine or heroin.
    Trafficking in a narcotic                        
  1. Causing another person’s death without intent.
  1. Operating a vehicle while physically and mentally unable to do so.
    Impaired driving                           
  1. Failing to come to court when you have been required to do so.
    Failure to appear
  1. Carrying a weapon that might be dangerous to the safety of others.
    Possession of a weapon
  1. Willfully and deliberately setting a fire to damage property.

Examining Criminal Case Scenarios

The possible offences in each of the scenarios are listed below:

  1. Theft under $5000.00 and possession of stolen property
  2. Possession of stolen property with a value over $5000.00
  3. Possession of a controlled substance and if a large quantity than the charge could be Possession of a controlled substance for the purposes of trafficking
  4. Shoplifting, which is theft under $5000.00
  5. Breaking and entering, theft either under or over $5000.00 and possession of stolen property
  6. Mischief
  7. Assault causing bodily harm
  8. Impaired driving

Activity 4: Morality and Criminal Law

The activities outlined for this lesson contain writing elements, public speaking, class participation and note-taking. The answers in all cases will be fluid, divergent - developing and grading should take this into consideration. Most of the written output is centred on organizing and clarifying student thinking and should be graded for completion as opposed to set answers. The speaking components can be evaluated using a standard rubric as supplied at the end of these units.