This morning, multiple media outlets reported that a trial date has been set in the sexual assault case against Jacob Hoggard. Newsflash: That’s not what went down. Here, we break down what actually did happen in Ontario Superior Court on Aug. 23, including the reason for all the confusion, why Hoggard (who is charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual interference involving a minor under 16) was a no-show and what is likely to happen next.
If the trial doesn’t start September 27, why are so many sources saying it does?
Presumably based on confusion around the (many) stages involved in bringing a criminal case to trial. It’s true, Hoggard’s legal proceedings will resume on September 27, it’s just that it won’t be the start of his trial. Instead it will be the judicial pre-trial, during which the Crown and the defence gather to discuss the case with a Superior Court Judge.
So what did happened today? Was Hoggard there?
What happened today is called “assignment court," which is essentially a scheduling meeting during which the judge sets the next date (in this case, the judicial pre-trial). Hoggard did not appear because, as defendant, he is not required to. He was represented by his lawyer Ian Smith. The whole thing took less than five minutes.
What is the purpose of a judicial pre-trial?
Among other things, it’s the last opportunity to settle a criminal case before going to trial. With Canada’s courts being extremely clogged, a judge will see if there is a way to avoid a costly trial in a way that is agreeable to both parties. The judge will walk both parties through the strengths and weaknesses of their cases, provide advice and, in the event there is a trial, help to narrow the focus for the purposes of expediency.
Can the public attend the judicial pre-trial?
No. While both the preliminary hearing (where both sides present their testimony; this happened last month) and today’s proceedings were open to the public, a judicial pre-trial happens either in closed court or in the judge’s private chambers. The idea is that all parties can be extremely candid in an effort to resolve the case.
What are the probable outcomes of the judicial pre-trial?
With a case that is this complicated and high profile, the most probably outcome is another judicial pre-trial. It often takes multiple sessions, which must each be scheduled in assignment court. At the conclusion of the the JPT process, the next step is either a trial or a plea, both of which have to happen in court.
How likely is a trial in Hoggard’s case?
A defendant’s decision on whether to go to trial has likely been influenced by the evidence presented at the aforementioned preliminary hearing. Since what happens at a pre-trial is subject to a media ban, it’s impossible to lay odds, however, but it stands to reason that the stronger the case against the defendant appears to be, the more open they might be to a settlement.