Conviction Upheld for Toronto Cop

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the 2016 conviction of attempted murder and six-year jail sentence of Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo (“Forcillo”).

We have previously blogged about the trial court decision where a jury found Forcillo guilty of attempted murder in the death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim (“Yatim”).

WHAT HAPPENED?

On July 27, 2013, police were called to the scene with reports about a disturbance aboard the 505 Dundas streetcar.  At trial, the jury heard evidence that Yatim had consumed the drug ecstasy before boarding the westbound streetcar at Yonge Street. He then proceeded to expose himself to women on the streetcar and withdrew a switchblade. The streetcar stopped near Grace Street and all passengers exited the doors.

Forcillo and his partner were the first officers to arrive and found Yatim alone on the streetcar. Forcillo fired nine shots from the street at Yatim after repeatedly requesting that the youth drop a small knife that he was holding as he stood aboard an empty streetcar. Forcillo fired two separate rounds of shots. Yatim was critically injured by the first round of shots, which caused him to fall on the floor of the streecar.

At trial, Forcillo faced two charges: second-degree murder for the first round of gunfire and attempted murder for the second round. The jury found Forcillo was justified in firing the first three shots at Yatim, and therefore not guilty of second-degree murder. However, the jury concluded that Forcillo was not justified in firing the second round of shots, and therefore convicted him of attempted murder.

THE SENTENCE AT TRIAL

Justice Edward Then sentenced Forcillo to six years in jail after the jury convicted him of attempted murder.

At the sentencing hearing, Forcillo’s lawyers argued that a minimum sentence should apply to a police officer on duty.

Justice Then stated that the second round of gunfire was “unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive” and contrary to Forcillo’s police training. He went on to explain that the sentence must match the crime. Furthermore, he expressed his belief that police officers should be held to a higher standard than members of the public and that Forcillo should have used de-escalation techniques to convince Yatim to release his weapon.

Forcillo had been granted bail pending the appeal decision, but he has been behind bars since late last year as a result of breaching his bail conditions. He has been charged with perjury and attempting to obstruct justice and is currently suspended without pay from the Toronto police.

THE APPEAL

In October, 2017, Forcillo launched an appeal. Forcillo requested that the Court of Appeal substitute a not guilty verdict or order a new trial. On appeal, Forcillo’s lawyers raised several questions about the trial and the sentence, including:

  • Whether the conviction for attempted murder can stand?
  • Whether the trial judge erred in excluding evidence regarding Mr. Yatim’s state of mind?
  • Whether the trial judge erred in sentencing Forcillo beyond the five-year mandatory minimum sentence?

This week, the Court of Appeal dismissed Forcillo’s appeal of both his conviction and sentence. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that the six-year prison sentence was “fit” considering the surrounding circumstances of the crime, including Forcillo’s failure to express remorse.

The Court of Appeal found that the jury’s verdict was reasonable as there were obvious differences between the circumstances when Forcillo fired the first set of shots and when he discharged the second set of gunfire (given that Yatim was hit and laying on his back during the second round of gunfire).

The Court of Appeal stated:

[Forcillo] knew from his training that Mr. Yatim did not pose an imminent threat to anyone merely by re-arming himself with a knife. He knew that he was not entitled to kill Mr. Yatim in these circumstances, yet he proceeded to fire six additional rounds fixed with that lethal intent.

Forcillo has the option of appealing this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. In order to do so, Forcillo would have to demonstrate that there is an issue of national importance. Forcillo’s lawyers are currently considering whether to appeal. We will keep you updated as this matter continues to develop.

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.