On Thursday, the sexual assault case against Jacob Hoggard will resume in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto after a more than seven-month pause. The two-day preliminary hearing (July 11–12) is the next step in legal proceedings that began last August following Hoggard’s July 2018 arrest. So what is a preliminary hearing exactly? What happens next? And will Hoggard finally show up in court this time?
Here’s everything you need to know about the accusations against Hoggard and what to expect from an almost inevitable trial.
What is Jacob Hoggard charged with?
Jacob Hoggard, 34, is charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual interference (meaning sexual touching, directly or indirectly, involving a minor). The charges relate to three separate incidents involving one woman and one girl under 16. The Toronto Police sex crimes unit began its investigation into allegations against the former lead singer of the Canadian band Hedley last March after a number of girls and women came forward (many on social media using the #OutHedley2k18 hashtag) with allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
Did Hoggard plead innocent or guilty?
So far neither. A plea is entered on the first day of trial, which has not happened yet. Up until now, court dates relating to Hoggard’s case have been part of the set-date process, where the prosecution must share any and all disclosure (ie, evidence) with the defence. The preliminary hearing (which is where we’re at now) is another step in the pre-trial process where the prosecution’s evidence is presented in front of a judge and the defence has the chance to cross examine any witnesses.
Hoggard has yet to show up to court. Will he this time?
Yes. While his absence from the previous discovery stages was completely standard, a defendant is required to appear at a preliminary hearing.
What is a preliminary hearing and what’s the purpose?
A preliminary hearing is “essentially a mini trial,” says Alison Craig, a Toronto-based criminal defence attorney at Lockyer Campbell Posner. The purpose is for a judge to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to move on to a trial. This is largely a formality as the burden of proof is extremely low. For example, a preliminary hearing judge is prohibited from assessing witness credibility as a determining factor. “In a sexual assault case, the only way I can imagine a judge discharging the defendant is if the witness took the stand and recanted their testimony,” says Craig.
The preliminary hearing also gives the defence an opportunity to size up the case against them — not just the evidence, but the witness testimony, which can be useful in setting up contradictory evidence, says Craig. “After the preliminary you have a transcript so if a witness says one thing in the preliminary and then something different at trial, that’s a way for the defence to diminish credibility. In sexual assault cases, which often come down to he said/she said, credibility is a huge issue,” says Craig.
So will Hoggard's case go to trial?
Will Hoggard take the stand at the preliminary hearing?
“Definitely not,” says Craig. The defence can put a witness on the stand, but they don’t have to and in this case there would be no reason to.
Presuming there is a trial, when will it start?
Probably not until 2020. Before the case goes to trial, there is another stage called the judicial pre-trial where the case moves up to Superior Court. At this point a new judge will review the Crown’s case to see if there is any possibility of resolution (possibly a defendant would plead guilty to some aspects in exchange for a lenient sentence, though in sexual assault cases a plea is unlikely), and also to determine how much time should be allotted for a trial. At the end of the judicial pre-trial the judge will set a trial date and the defendant will have to decide on whether they want to be tried by judge or jury.
Which one is more likely?
“Different lawyers have different perspectives, so it’s hard to say,” says Craig. The thinking behind choosing a jury is that you only need to convince one person out of 12 of reasonable doubt. On the other hand, a judge is less likely to be swayed by emotion and must also explain their decision after the fact. “I’ve always thought a judge is the better call in sex assault cases,” says Craig says. In the #MeToo era, she says she would be extremely hesitant to put anyone accused of sexual assault in front of a jury: “The predominant thinking these days is that no woman would ever lie about these things.”
Where will the preliminary hearing take place?
In the same court that the previous discovery process took place which, in this case, is Toronto’s Old City Hall. The specific courtroom will be listed on the day’s docket which is available first thing in the morning at the courthouse (or after 4:30 the day before at ontariocourtdates.ca).
Can anyone attend?
Yes. Preliminary hearings are open to the public.