Courts & Trials

Supreme Court Upholds First Degree Murder Convictions for Death of 6-Year-Old

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) has upheld the first-degree murder convictions of Spencer Jordan (“Jordan”) and Marie Magoon (“Magoon”), who were charged in the death of six-year-old Meika Jordan (“Meika”).

Defence lawyers requested that the SCC reverse a decision by the Alberta Court of Appeal, which upgraded Jordan and Magoon’s second-degree murder convictions after ruling that Meika had been confined prior to her death (a condition that automatically increases the severity of a murder offence).

Under the original second-degree murder convictions, Jordan and Magoon had been sentenced to life in prison without parole for a minimum of 17 years. The upgraded first-degree murder convictions carry an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On November 14, 2011, Meika died after spending the weekend at the home of her father, Jordan, and stepmother, Magoon. The six-year-old was tortured for days leading up to her death by being forced to run stairs, dragged up and down the stairs by her ankles, repeatedly hit and even burned. She suffered damage to her internal organs and a subdural hematoma and cerebral swelling caused by at least five blows to her head. No medical attention was sought until Meika was in complete cardiac and respiratory failure. Jordan and Magoon told police that Meika had fallen down the stairs, however, the medical evidence supported a pattern of frequent and intentional violence.

Jordan and Magoon were charged with first degree murder and convicted of second degree murder at trial in 2015. They appealed their convictions and the Crown prosecutors appealed the first degree murder acquittals. The Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed the accuseds’ appeals, but allowed the Crown appeals. The Appeal Court held that the accused unlawfully confined Meika rendering them liable for first degree murder under section 231(5) of the Criminal Code of Canada (“CC”).

The SCC refused to hear an appeal to have the convictions entirely quashed, but did hear arguments on the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision to upgrade the charge from second-degree murder to first-degree murder.

The nine SCC justices took less than 10 minutes to come to the decision to dismiss all appeals in November, 2017. The SCC found that the Court of Appeal did not err in substituting verdicts of guilty of murder in the first degree. The written reasons for the ruling were released on April 13, 2018.

MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE

The crime of murder is deemed as the most vicious of crimes in Canadian society. This is reflected in the harshness of the sanctions and punishments for this crime.

In Canada, there are two divisions of murder and one of manslaughter. First degree murder is planned and deliberate (with a few exceptions), whereas second degree murder is defined as murder that is not first degree (not premeditated). Manslaughter is defined as a homicide committed without the intention to cause death.

First degree murder bears an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Once on parole, offenders remain on parole for the rest of their life and must report to a parole officer and are subject to conditions of their parole. If any of the conditions of parole are broken, they are sent directly back to prison without a hearing.

WHAT IS FIRST DEGREE MURDER UNDER SECTION 231(5) OF THE CRIMINAL CODE?

There are some homicides automatically deemed first degree murder, even if they were not intentional or planned. These include assassination of a police officer or prison employee on duty (section 231(4) of the CC) or murder committed in conjunction with one of the following offences (section 231 (5) of the CC):

  • hijacking;
  • sexual assault;
  • sexual assault with a weapon;
  • aggravated sexual assault;
  • kidnapping;
  • forcible confinement;
  • hostage taking;
  • terrorism;
  • intimidation;
  • criminal harassment; or
  • any offence committed on behalf of a criminal organization.

The section of the CC that was applied in Meika’s case was section 231(5)(e), which reads as follows:

(5)       Irrespective of whether a murder is planned and deliberate on the part of any person, murder is first degree murder in respect of a person when the death is caused by that person while committing or attempting to commit an offence under one of the following sections:

            (e) section 279 (kidnapping and forcible confinement);

The case of R. v. Pritchard explained Parliament’s intention to “treat murders committed in connection with crimes of domination as particularly blameworthy and deserving of more severe punishment”.

The applicable test to be applied in determining guilt of first degree murder under section 231(5)(e) of the CC was set out in R. v. Harbottle. The Crown must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. the accused was guilty of the underlying crime of domination or of attempting to commit that crime;
  2. the accused was guilty of the murder of the victim;
  3. the accused participated in the murder in such a manner that he/she was a substantial cause of the death of the victim;
  4. there was no intervening act of another which resulted in the accused no longer being substantially connected to the death of the victim; and
  5. the crimes of domination and murder were part of the same transaction.

In Meika’s case, the SCC found that although there were no physical restraints used, Meika was physically restrained and restricted to remain in her bedroom or the basement. Furthermore, given the parent child relationship there is less of a requirement for physical restraints due to the unequal relationship that exists. “[D]isciplining a child by restricting his or her ability to move about freely (by physical or psychological means), contrary to the child’s wishes, which exceeds the outer bounds of punishment that a parent or guardian could lawfully administer, constitutes unlawful confinement.” Therefore, the SCC found that the Harbottle test was met.

If you have been charged with a serious offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

Major Changes Proposed to Unclog Canada’s Criminal Courts

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week, the Liberal government proposed a new bill, Bill C-75, to modernize Canada’s criminal justice system and speed up court proceedings by amending the Criminal Code, Youth Criminal Justice Act and other laws. The changes include eliminating preliminary inquiries (except in cases of crimes that carry a life sentence), ending peremptory challenges in jury selection, addressing intimate partner violence, creating a higher threshold for bail and increasing sentences for repeat offenders.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the new bill aims “to make our criminal justice system more effective and efficient while respecting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. More importantly, it will make a significant contribution to a necessary culture shift in the way our criminal justice system operates.”

Here are some of the highlights from Bill C-75:

PRELIMINARY INQUIRIES

One of the most controversial features of Bill C-75 is the proposal to eliminate preliminary inquiries in the majority of criminal proceedings.

A preliminary inquiry is an optional hearing requested by either the accused or the Crown prosecutor. It is available where an adult is charged with an indictable offence and elects to be tried by the Superior Court. Preliminary inquiries determine if there is enough evidence to send the accused to trial. It is a process by which the Crown and the accused test the evidence to be used at trial.

Under the proposed legislation, only an adult accused of a crime punishable by life imprisonment would be able to request a preliminary inquiry. The preliminary inquiry judge would also be able to limit the issues to be considered and the witnesses.

The government justifies this proposal claiming that it will reduce the number of preliminary inquiries, thus freeing up court time and reducing the burden on some witnesses and victims. Specifically, this would protect sexual assault victims from having to testify twice – once at the preliminary inquiry stage and once at the trial.

This proposal will eliminate the number of preliminary inquiries by 87%. There are currently more than 9,000 preliminary inquiries held each year.

Many criminal defence lawyers oppose this proposal. They take the position that the preliminary inquiry process can eliminate cases that do not have enough evidence to proceed to trial. Furthermore, preliminary inquiries can save a lot of time down the road by narrowing issues, shortening trials and sometimes even eliminating the need for trials.

INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE

Under the proposed legislation, the more inclusive “intimate partner” wording would replace “spouse” and “common-law partner” and the definition would be broadened to include past partners.

Bill C-75 also introduces a reverse onus imposed at the bail hearing of an accused charged with an offence involving intimate partner violence and repeat abusers (rather than placing the onus on the Crown to make a case for keeping the accused incarcerated).

The new legislation would make strangulation an elevated form of assault (in conjunction with assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm) and allows a higher maximum penalty in cases involving repeat domestic abusers.

BAIL

Bill C-75 proposes to update and modernize bail practices by allowing police and judges more flexibility to deal with criminal charges.   Police would be given the authority to impose appropriate conditions on accused individuals without having to seek court approval.

JURY SELECTION

The impetus to rework the jury selection process in Bill C-75 comes in response to the public’s reaction to the acquittal of Gerald Stanley, which we have previously blogged about. In this case, an all-white jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man.

The government proposes to improve the jury selection process and seeks to encourage diversity by abolishing peremptory challenges. Peremptory challenges allow defence counsel or Crown prosecutors to exclude a potential juror without giving a reason. The government maintains that ending peremptory challenges will prevent counsel from excluding minority candidates from juries. The proposed legislation will allow judges to decide whether to exclude jurors that have been challenged by either the prosecution or defence.

Bill C-75 still needs to be debated and approved before becoming law.  We will continue to provide updates regarding the status of this Bill as it becomes available.

In the meantime, if you have questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24/7.

Jury Finds Anne Norris Not Criminally Responsible in Death of Marcel Reardon

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A Newfoundland jury found Anne Norris (“Norris”) not criminally responsible in the death of 46-year-old Marcel Reardon (“Reardon”).

Following the verdict, Norris has been placed in the custody of the Newfoundland and Labrador Criminal Mental Disorder Review Board for psychiatric treatment.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Norris pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Reardon’s death, but admitted to repeatedly hitting him in the head with a hammer early in the morning of May 9, 2016.

The following details admitted by Norris were presented to the jury:

  • Norris socialized with Reardon and two others downtown in St. John’s on May 8, 2016, before leaving alone and going to Walmart on Topsail Road;
  • Norris purchased a knife and a 16 oz. Stanley hammer at a Walmart hours before the incident;
  • Norris returned downtown and in the early morning hours of May 9, 2016 she and Reardon took a cab to Harbour View Apartments on Brazil Street, where she lived;
  • Norris killed Reardon by striking him several times in the head with the hammer, then moved his body under a set of concrete steps;
  • Norris put the murder weapon, her jeans and some rope into a borrowed backpack and threw it in St. John’s harbour;
  • The backpack was recovered two days later and turned over to the police; and
  • Norris admitted to owning a sock, scarf, bathrobe and a pair of sneakers taken by police from her apartment, which were found to contain Reardon’s blood.

The issues at trial were whether or not Norris was mentally sound enough to be criminally responsible for Reardon’s death, and if so, whether or not the killing included the intent and planning required for first-degree murder.

Norris’ lawyers maintained that she was suffering from a mental disorder when she attacked Reardon and therefore should be found “not criminally responsible”. Her lawyers suggested that Norris was “a ticking time bomb” and had been on a “downward spiral” since the age of 24. She has received treatment in the past for psychosis and has a longtime belief that she was being sexually assaulted by various men while she slept. She had been released from the Waterford Hospital practically untreated days before she killed Reardon. Lawyers argued that Norris thought Reardon was going to sexually assault her and that’s why she attacked him.

On the other hand, Crown prosecutors argued that the evidence demonstrated that Norris was not delusional and planned a deliberate killing, even going so far as to dispose of the weapon. Lawyers for the Crown reasoned that although Norris had a mental illness, there was no evidence of her being symptomatic at the time of the attack.

The trial lasted one month and 31 witnesses were called, including police officers, friends of Norris, Norris’ father, employees of Walmart, the province’s chief medical examiner, five psychiatrists and one psychologist.

WHAT DOES “NOT CRIMINALLY RESPONSIBLE” MEAN?

Not criminally responsible (“NCR”) is defined in section 16 of the Criminal Code. An individual is NCR if he/she was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the offence, and:

  • the mental disorder made it impossible for him/her to understand the nature and quality of what he/she did; or
  • the mental disorder made it impossible for him/her to understand that what he/she did was morally wrong, not just legally wrong.

The party raising the issue of NCR has the burden. More likely than not it is the defence who must prove the accused is NCR on the “balance of probabilities”.

Once an individual is found NCR, he/she is not acquitted. Instead the individual is diverted to a provincial or territorial review board (pursuant to section 672.38 of the Criminal Code), which are independent tribunals made up of at least five people, including a licensed psychiatrist. Each year cases are heard by the board at which point the board can impose one of the following:

  • that the individual remain detained in a hospital with varying levels of privileges;
  • that the individual be released on a conditional discharge (individuals are allowed into the community where they have substantial freedom and relatively light conditions); or
  • that the individual be released on an absolute discharge (individuals are released into the community without any supervision).

Absolute discharges are only granted when the board finds the individual is not a “significant threat” to public safety.

The Crown, in this case, has 30 days to decide whether it will seek to appeal the verdict. In the meantime, Norris will remain in psychiatric care until a review board deems her fit to be released into the community.

If you have been charged with a serious offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

 

 

 

30 Days in Jail for Man Convicted of Drinking and Driving

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

An Ontario man, who was convicted of drunk driving (over 80 driving), was recently sentenced to 30 days in jail despite having no criminal record.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the early morning hours of September 2, 2016, a serious car accident took place in front of the Riverside Inn in Bracebridge, Ontario.

The driver in question, Brandon Greavette, was in a pick-up truck which left the roadway, knocked down a light standard, and damaged vehicles in the parking lot of the Riverside Inn before coming to a stop on top of the dislodged light standard. The airbags of his truck were set off by the impact. One of the front wheels of a small sedan were knocked off the car and the axle and suspension unit were found lying on the roadway.

Greavette, 26 years of age, only suffered minor cuts to his face as a result of the collision. He admitted to a police officer at the scene that he had been the driver of the pick-up truck and that he had been drinking. He had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, an inability to focus, and an odour of alcohol on his breath and body. He had trouble balancing and stumbled on his way to the police car. Greavette provided two breath samples into a breathalyzer and was arrested at the scene. His readings were 140 and 130 mg of alcohol in 100 mg of blood.

Greavette was convicted of Over 80 driving following his trial on October 19, 2017 and Justice David Rose provided reasons for sentencing on January 10, 2018.

SENTENCING PRINCIPLES IN CANADA

If an accused pleads guilty or is found guilty at trial, the Court must then determine a sentence that is fair given all of the circumstances, the seriousness of the offence, and the offender’s degree of responsibility.

The Court may increase or decrease a sentence when reviewing all of the aggravating and mitigating factors relating to the offender and the offence.

An aggravating factor is something that can serve to increase the sentence, for example the offender’s criminal record. A mitigating factor is something that can serve to decrease the sentence, such as a good work history which can indicate good character.

Under section 718 of the Criminal Code, Canadian courts must impose just sentences that have one or more of the following objectives:

  • denounce the unlawful conduct and harm to the victim or the community;
  • deter the offender and others from committing crimes;
  • separate offenders from society, when necessary;
  • rehabilitate the offender;
  • provide reparations for harm done to the victim or the community; and
  • promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgement of the harm done.

SENTENCING JUDGMENT

In making his sentencing decision, Justice Rose took into account various factors including rehabilitation, Greavette’s degree of responsibility, the fact that he was a first-time offender, and deterrence.

The mitigating factors in this case included the fact that Greavette is a relatively youthful first-time offender who has a supportive family and a good job. However, Justice Rose noted that this was tempered by the fact that Greavette continues to abuse alcohol socially which leads to assaultive behaviour.

In addition, although Greavette has no prior criminal record, the Court noted that he had several driving-related offences (i.e. Provincial Offences Act violations) on file which included four speeding tickets, tailgating, failing to stop at a signal or crosswalk, and careless driving. He had also been ticketed in 2016 for consumption of alcohol in public. These were aggravating factors.

In addition to Greavette’s problematic-driving record, additional aggravating factors included the troubling damage from the collision (including damage to the two vehicles, property damage to the light fixture, and damage to other vehicles in the parking lot at the Riverside Inn).

Justice Rose also noted that there were 6 individuals who walked away from the accident virtually and miraculously unharmed. He emphasized the devastating consequences that drunk drivers have on Canadian society and went on to cite various cases which reiterate that drinking and driving offences are serious crimes and must be treated this way by the courts.

Given all of the above these factors, Justice Rose held that this case calls for a deterrent sentence.

The Pre-Sentence Report “supports the finding that Mr. Greavette accepts responsibility for this offence but has not yet understood that when he drinks bad things happen”.

Justice Rose wrote,

After reflection I have come to the conclusion that neither a fine, nor a conditional sentence order will meet the required principals of sentencing. I do not take lightly the decision to jail a first offender, but after reflection I have determined that the sentence will be 30 days in jail.

In addition to time in jail, Greavette is to be placed on probation for 1 year following his jail sentence, must attend counselling for alcohol abuse and obey a curfew set by the probation officer. He will also undergo an 18 month driving prohibition.

If you have been charged with a driving offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience.

Appeal Court Upholds Parents’ Conviction in Son’s Meningitis Death

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A panel of Appeal Court judges in Alberta dismissed the appeal of a couple who were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19 month old son, who died of meningitis in 2012.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In 2016, David and Collet Stephan were convicted by a jury for failing to provide the necessaries of life in their son Ezekiel’s 2012 death. They had treated their son with natural remedies rather than taking him to a doctor when he had become ill.

A panel of Appeal Court judges in Alberta dismissed the appeal. Justice Bruce McDonald, writing for the majority, wrote,

This evidence supports the conclusion that they actively failed to do what a reasonably prudent and ordinary parent would do.

During the trial, jurors heard evidence that the Stephans used natural remedies and homemade smoothies containing hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion rather than seek medical care. Ezekiel became too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress when his father drove him from his home to a naturopathic clinic to pick up additional herbal supplements.

The Stephans did not call for medical assistance until their son stopped breathing. He was then rushed to a local hospital, but died after being transported by air ambulance to a Children’s Hospital in Calgary.

THE TRIAL AND APPEAL

According to the Stephans’ lawyers, the trial was a “battle of experts”. The Stephans argued that the convictions should be overturned because the trial judge erred in allowing too many Crown experts to testify, the medical jargon confused jurors, and the defence expert’s testimony was restricted. The majority of the Appeal Court dismissed all grounds of appeal.

The Stephans’ lawyers also argued that their clients’ Charter rights had been violated because of the unreasonable delay between the time they were charged to the date they were convicted. This aspect of the appeal was also dismissed with the Court finding the delay was not unreasonable.

DISSENTING OPINION ON APPEAL

Justice Brian O’Ferrall wrote a dissenting opinion in favour of a new trial. He felt that the trial judge’s charge to the jury was confusing and misleading. Justice O’Ferrall did, however, agree with the majority of the Court in finding that the Stephans’ right to be tried within a reasonable time had not been infringed.

SENTENCING

David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail and his wife, Collet, was sentenced to three months of house arrest. They were both ordered to complete 240 hours of community service. The trial Judge also ordered that the Stephans’ three other children see a medical doctor at least once a year.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

Given that one of the three judges on the appeal panel dissented, the Stephans have an automatic right to have the Supreme Court of Canada hear arguments in their case. The Supreme Court has set a tentative date to hear arguments on May 15, 2018 for the couple.

The Crown prosecutors have filed their own appeal where they will argue that the couple should face stiffer sentences before another panel of Court of Appeal judges. A date for these arguments has not yet been set.

NECESSARIES OF LIFE

The Criminal Code of Canada requires that every parent, foster parent, or guardian is required to provide necessaries of life for a child under the age of 16 years of age.

A parent is responsible for the care, supervision, maintenance and support of his/her children. At a minimum, this obligation entails the provision of food and shelter. The Courts have also found that the failure to seek medical attention can be categorized as a “failure to provide the necessaries of life”.

The prosecution, in a case such as the Stephans, is required to prove that:

  1. The accused was under a legal duty to provide the necessaries of life to a child under the age of 16 years;
  2. The accused failed to provide the necessaries of life to a child under the age of 16 years;
  3. This failure endangered the child’s life or was likely to cause the health of that child to be endangered permanently; and,
  4. The conduct of the accused represented a marked departure from the conduct of a reasonable parent, foster parent, or guardian in the same circumstances.

We will continue to follow the developments in this case and will provide updates on this blog as they become available.

In the meantime, if you are facing charges or have questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services. We are available when you need us most.

 

Driver Found Not Guilty in Car Accident that Killed Pedestrian and Her Dog

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

 

On November 21, 2017, Mr. Justice Peter Bawden found Gideon Fekre not guilty of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In April 2015, 18-year old Fekre was driving on Dundas St. E. approaching Carlaw Avenue when he crossed a bike lane and drove onto the sidewalk for 20 metres, ultimately striking and killing Kristy Hodgson and one of her two dogs that she was walking.

Fekre told the Court,

I was coming down Dundas from the Eaton Centre….My water bottle dropped, and I reacted, is the best way of putting it. I reached down  with my right hand to pick it up, kept my left hand on the steering wheel. …[I realized] the direction I was heading was onto the sidewalk toward a woman and her dogs.

Fekre testified at trial that he tried to avoid Hodgson by hitting his brakes and turning the steering wheel towards the road, but was unsuccessful.

Police officers testified that Fekre’s car had left the roadway, crossed a bike lane, and driven on the sidewalk for more than 20 metres at approximately 52 kilometres per hour. Fekre had told the officers at the scene that he had taken his eyes off the road for “just a second” while trying to retrieve a water bottle that had fallen onto the floor beneath his feet.

THE OFFENCE: DANGEROUS OPERATION OF A MOTOR VEHICLE CAUSING DEATH

The criminal charge of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death is a serious criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison as set out in section 249(4) of the Criminal Code of Canada. This offence consists of two components:

  • the prohibited conduct (operating a motor vehicle in a dangerous manner resulting in death); and,
  • the required degree of fault (marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in all the circumstances).

In the 2012 case of R. v. Roy, the Supreme Court of Canada clarified the legal principles to be applied in determining the criminal standard for dangerous driving. The Court set out the two questions to ask in determining whether the fault component is present:

  • In light of all of the relevant evidence, would a reasonable person have foreseen the risk and taken steps to avoid it if possible?
  • Was the accused’s failure to foresee the risk and take steps to avoid it, if possible, a marked departure from the standard of care expected of a reasonable person in the accused’s circumstances?

In the case of R. v. Roy, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the trial judge erred in law by inferring from the fact that Roy had committed a dangerous act while driving that his conduct displayed a marked departure from the standard of care expected of a reasonable person in the circumstances. The Supreme Court allowed the appeal, set aside the conviction and entered an acquittal.

DECISION BY THE TRIAL JUDGE

The real question before the court was whether Fekre’s reaction in the less than two seconds was a “marked deviation” from what a “reasonably prudent” driver would do under the circumstances.

Was it [reaching for a water bottle] a marked departure from what a reasonable driver would have done?

Justice Bawden found that the Crown prosecutor had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Fekre made a conscious decision to divert his attention at an essential moment while driving. He did state that the driving in question could lead to liability in a civil trial, but he did not meet the higher criminal standard for dangerous driving outlined by previous decisions before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Justice Bawden specified that the duration of the interruption in attention while driving was essential in coming to his decision. The evidence showed a period of inattention lasting between 0.74 seconds to 1.18 seconds. This, according to Justice Bawden, qualified as a “momentary lapse of attention” which had been deemed non-criminal by the Supreme Court. He stated, “We cannot hold drivers to a standard of ideal decision-making when making split-second decisions”. He found that Fekre made an “imprudent but reflexive decision”.

Furthermore, Fekre’s behavior at the scene showed concern for the victim and dramatic remorse, which enhanced his credibility.

CHANGES IN THE FUTURE

The Liberal government currently has a proposal on the table to establish new road safety measures, which we have previously blogged about.

The proposed legislation includes the offence of careless driving resulting in death or bodily harm with a maximum fine of $50,000.00, license suspension, and imprisonment. We will provide updates regarding this new legislation as information becomes available.

If you are facing a dangerous driving charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience.

Woman Who Insisted on Self-Representation Found Guilty of Murdering Husband

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

At the culmination of a very strange trial in which the accused insisted on representing herself, a jury recently found Xiu Jin Teng guilty of the first-degree murder of her husband.

The Trial

Teng had originally been charged with committing an indignity to a body, after she told her landlord (upon the landlord locating the husband’s dead body in the closet) that her husband had died of a heart attack. The charge was elevated to first degree murder when the investigation revealed that Teng, who worked for London Life, had purchased a $2 million life insurance policy on her husband and had named herself the beneficiary.  Prosecutors argued that this had been Teng’s motive for the crime, and that the husband’s body was discovered by the landlord before she was able to dispose of it using various items she purchased at a hardware store.

Accused Insisted on Self-Representation

The jury was never told why Teng did not have a defence lawyer, though presiding judge Justice MacDonnell did inform them that Teng’s frequent allegation that she was being denied a lawyer was not true.

In fact, Teng had fired her first lawyer after several months, and subsequently went through three additional lawyers before finally deciding on a lawyer she seemed OK with in 2013. At that time, her trial was scheduled for September 2015. Just prior to the start of the trial, the lawyer informed the court that he needed to be removed as counsel due to the breakdown of his lawyer-client relationship with Teng.

Teng refused to have another lawyer take over and for the trial to proceed that November.  The next available trial date was not until October 2016. Teng continued to refuse to hire a lawyer, despite the court urging her to obtain counsel from Legal Aid.

Accused’s Request for Stay due to Delay Denied

Before her trial began in late 2016, Teng attempted to have her charges stayed due to unreasonable delay, arguing that almost give years will have passed between her arrest in 2012 and the foreseeable end of her trial.

In support of her request for a stay, Teng cited the Supreme Court’s recent decision in R.v. Jordan (an important recent case which we’ve previously blogged about) which sets a 30-month time limit between an accused arrest and the end of their trial. Teng argued that the delay had already had serious consequences for her, including the fact that she had been unable to see her young daughter (who now resides in China with the husband’s family after an order by the Children’s Aid Society- CAS). Teng believed that the CAS might not have made that decision had the trial proceeded faster.

Justice McDonnell did not stay the charges, finding that the period of time that had elapsed since Teng’s arrest was justified under the legal framework which had existed prior to the Jordan decision.

The Accused’s Outbursts and Inappropriate Behaviour Throughout the Trial

Throughout the trial, Teng regularly interrupted the proceedings, occasionally prompting Justice MacDonnell to order her removal from the courtroom, and placing her in a separate room with a video-link through which she could continue to watch the proceedings but not participate.

At various points during the proceedings Teng accused Justice MacDonnell of “fooling the jury”, “rejecting her constitutional right” to “speak for herself”, and later telling the Justice that he was “biased” and “not trustable” and an “evil judge”. On one occasion she shouted “you are wrong! You are wrong!” and “you do everything illegally in this courtroom. You are an illegal judge”.

In Justice MacDonnell’s final instructions to the jury, the judge reminded them that they were not to take Teng’s courtroom behaviour into consideration when making their decision.

It is never a good idea to represent yourself in criminal proceedings. If you have been charged with an offense and require legal counsel, contact the criminal defense lawyers at Affleck Barrison in Oshawa. We are located at 201 Bond Street East in Oshawa, within easy walking distance of the Durham Consolidated Courthouse. We maintain a 24-hour call service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times and accept cases on private retainers as well as Legal Aid. Do not hesitate to contact our firm online or at 905-404-1947 to discuss your charges

Ontario Taking Steps to Improve Criminal Justice System

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Earlier this month, the Ministry of the Attorney General announced that the Ontario government is taking proactive steps to make the province’s criminal justice system “faster and fairer”, including improving the bail system, and reducing the time it takes for matters to get to trial.

Highlights of the Government’s Plan

The government intends to enhance public safety through expediting the resolution of criminal matters and creating more supports for vulnerable individuals who come into contact with the legal system.

The plan includes:

  • The appointment of 13 provincial court judges, 32 Crown attorneys, 16 duty counsel (i.e.- lawyers who are paid by Legal Aid), and 26 court staff;
  • The appointment of three prominent legal experts, including a former Chief Justice, former Deputy Attorney General, and a deputy Crown attorney to provide insights on modernizing Crown (i.e- prosecution) policies on bail;
  • Several measures intended to improve the bail system, including a province-wide expansion and enhancement of the existing Bail Verification and Supervision Program, making the program available at several court locations on weekends, and extending eligibility for the program. This is intended to facilitate successful release of low-risk individuals on bail, pending trial, and ensure that they are not behind bars until their trial is completed;
  • Launching a new “bail beds” program in five Ontario communities to provide supervised and safe housing for low-risk individuals;
  • Embedding duty counsel in six correctional facilities province-wide to allow for more effective bail hearings;
  • Developing a new, culturally sensitive program providing support to Indigenous individuals going through the bail process.

Quick Facts about Bail

  • The decision to grant or deny a person bail is complex and based on the specific circumstances of each individual matter;
  • Some key factors considered by Crown when recommending bail are: public safety (particularly the safety of any victims), attendance in court, rights of the accused, and public confidence in the justice system;
  • If an accused is not released on bail, they will be held in hail until their trial is heard. This can take many months, or even a year or more;
  • Denial of bail causes significant damage to the life and career of the accused, as well as the life of their family.

Delays in the Current Justice System

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has stated that:

Our criminal courts are bottlenecked, daily dockets are jammed and early trial dates are hard to come by…This is not good for anyone.

The province’s announcement follows the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in R.v. Jordan, which set time limits by which all matters must get to trial. In the wake of the Jordan decision a case may be dismissed due to delay if it takes more than 18 months to get to trial in provincial court, or 30 months in Superior Court. As we’ve previously blogged about, Ontario courts subsequently changed their practices with respect to any cases that entered the system after the SCC’s ruling.

Last month, a Superior Court judge in Ottawa halted a first-degree murder case because it had taken too long to get to trial.

It will be interesting to follow developments in the province’s plan, and to see what effect it has on the criminal justice system. We will continue to monitor the program as it progresses, and will blog as needed to provide updates.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about your rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947. Our firm and its predecessors have been protecting client rights since 1992. Our skilled lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s legal interests.  We are available 24 hours a day, and offer a variety of payment options, including Legal Aid. Whatever the nature of your offence, we can help.

 

Psychiatrist testifies that senior in murder trial has dementia and delusions, and is not criminally responsible

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Peter Brooks, 76, is on trial for first degree murder after he beat Joycelyn Dickson, 72, to death in her bed with his cane. Dickson was a fellow resident at the Wexford long-term care facility in Scarborough. Brooks is also charged with attempted murder, for attacking a second resident, Lourdes Missier, 91, on the same night.

On the evening of March 13, 2013, Brooks entered Missier’s and attacked her with his cane, leaving her with injuries to her hands and face. Brooks then went upstairs and killed Dickson, who was partially paralyzed, by hitting her in the head at least seven times while she slept in her bed.

Brooks pled not guilty to the charges at his first trial date, where he appeared in a wheelchair and required an assistive listening device in order to hear the proceedings. A forensic psychiatrist retained by Brooks’ defence lawyers has since testified that at the time of the incident, Brooks was suffering from dementia and delusions and should be found not criminally responsible.

History of Animosity

The jury previously heard of a history of animosity between Brooks and the women over the course of the two years that Brooks lived in the facility.

Missier and Brooks had once lived on the same floor and had been friendly, but their friendship eventually soured after Missier began to share treats she received from her family with residents other than Brooks. Brooks and Dickson once resided on the same floor for a year and had engaged in verbal clashes.

Brooks was moved back to the same floor as Missier days before the attacks occurred. On the day of the attacks, Missier expressed a fear of Brooks and informed staff that she did not want to be on the same floor as him. On the same day,  Dickson told a Wexford employee that she feared that Brooks would kill her.

Dementia and Delusions

Dr. Julian Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that Brooks has likely had dementia since 2010, and this has impacted his brain functioning, memory, and inhibitions. In addition, since 2011, Brooks suffered from a strong paranoid delusion that Missier and Dickson were conspiring with staff and management to harass him and get him removed from the facility.

Dr. Gojer testified that

[Brooks] is now suffering (from a mental disorder) and was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of homicide. I can say that with a very strong conviction.

In Dr. Gojer’s opinion, Brooks was so consumed by his delusional behaviour nothing else seemed to matter. Brooks would have been unable to foresee the consequences of his actions, or weigh the pros and cons of his actions (which is a major component of determining criminal responsibility). He pointed to Brooks’ admission to hitting the women when confronted by staff, and the fact that he made no attempt to run away following the attacks.

Dr. Gojer additionally suggested that the attacks had been triggered by Brooks’ fear of being moved within the facility, to the independent wing, and his worries about his ability to care for himself and afford the higher costs of living there. The psychiatrist noted that, in 2010, prior to living at Wexford, Brooks had been found in his apartment, “in a terrible state”, drinking heavily and depressed following the death of his wife. Brooks was initially admitted to hospital, and later transferred to Wexford.  According to Dr. Gojer, there had been no effort by Wexford staff to treat Brooks’ dementia or paranoid delusions.

The psychiatrist testified that:

…Rather than treat his delusion with anti-pyschotic medication they thought about transferring him to another unit…[i]f he was placed in a nursing home again, I guarantee there would be problems. He is not a safe person to be put in a nursing home, he needs to be in a hospital. He needs to be treated.

Dr. Gojer additionally refuted the prosecutor’s suggestion that Brooks was lying or faking his condition, and the allegation that Brooks had to have remembered attacking the women. The psychiatrist testified that Brooks had been tested for signs of “malingering” (i.e- lying) and did not show any signs of it. Additionally, Brooks’ claim that he did not remember the attacks could be explained by the fact that people suffering from dementia are highly susceptible to filling gaps in their memories with information they received from other sources.

Dr. Gojer emphasized that Brooks has no known history of violence and no criminal record prior to moving into the Wexford. He noted that it will be up to the jury to decide:

Is (Brooks) simply an angry old man, a cantankerous disgruntled nursing home resident or is he a person with a delusion acting in a violent manner because he thinks someone is harming him?

We will continue to follow developments in this case and will provide updates as necessary.

If you have been charged with murder or manslaughter , or have questions, contact our firm online or at 905-404-1947 to discuss your charges with one of our experienced Oshawa lawyers. We maintain a 24-hour call service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

Ontario Announces Free Counselling for Traumatized Jurors

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General announced last week that they will be launching a Juror Support Program to provide free, accessible counselling services to those serving jury duty.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has stated:  “Jurors in difficult trials do face evidence that could be quite horrific, and we’ve heard those stories, [i]t’s only appropriate that we provide appropriate services.”

How Does the Program Work?

Under the province’s current system, jurors who wish to pursue counselling must first obtain a trial judge’s permission or a court order, otherwise they must pay for counselling on their own.

The new Juror Support Program will be available to any juror who has served in a criminal or civil trial, or a coroner’s inquest. Jurors will be provided with information about the Program at the beginning and end of the trial. The Program will operate like an employee assistance program. Beginning in January 2017, jurors will be able to call a phone number and receive help from a designated third party whenever necessary. The government is yet to determine who this third party will be, and exactly what type of counselling will be available.

The Attorney General hopes that “…through this important change we’ll continue to maintain the confidence in our justice system and the very important role that jurors play.”

What Led to this Change?

The need for such a program was brought to light by Mark Farrant, who was diagnosed with PTSD after serving as jury foreman in a violent first-degree murder trial in Toronto two and a half years ago. At trial, the accused was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, whose throat he had slit, and whom he had stabbed repeatedly prior to setting their home on fire.

Mr. Farrant stated to CBC News that he was “not the same person I am coming out of that trial as I was going in…[t]he immediate graphic horror really of the crime itself, that was apparent very quickly, and I don’t think I was prepared for that”. Mr. Farrant further mentioned that he was very affected by the autopsy photos, photos and video of the crime scene, and the coroner’s verbal description and diagrams of the victim. The effect of these images was compounded by the fact that Mr. Farrant couldn’t share what he saw and heard at trial with anyone since, at the outset of a trial, each juror is instructed by the trial judge not to discuss details of the case with anyone outside the jury, and not to listen to, watch, or read any outside reports about the case.

Mr. Farrant’s trauma intensified over time, and he began to exhibit more acute symptoms. He tried to work through the troubles he was experiencing on his own for many months, until family members suggested that he seek professional help. He initially called the court, as well as social services, but was informed that the decision to provide counselling to jurors is at the discretion of the trial judge, and if it not ordered, jurors have to seek and pay for it on their own.

Mr. Farrant has been paying to see a therapist to help with his PTSD for the past year and states that he was proud to have served on a jury but that “A juror should not have to seek support, should not have to be burdened with an additional enormous burden of trying to get better after something that has impacted them that was their civic duty to perform”.

We will continue to follow updates on this important matter, and will provide updates as necessary.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about your rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.