After deliberating for 13 hours, an all-white jury in Battleford, Saskatchewan found Gerald Stanley, a farmer from rural Saskatchewan, not guilty in the 2016 death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie (“Boushie”), a resident of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
Widespread attention has surrounded this trial and the verdict reveals a deep racial divide in Saskatchewan. Some advocates believe that this case highlights a long standing need for more diversity on Canadian juries.
WHAT HAPPENED? CONFLICTING ACCOUNTS
On August 9, 2016, Gerald Stanley (“Gerald”) and his son, Sheldon Stanley, (“Sheldon”) heard an SUV traveling down their gravel driveway leading to the family farmhouse, garage and shop.
Boushie, his girlfriend Kiora Wuttunee, and three other passengers (Cassidy Cross-Whitstone, Eric Meechance and Belinda Jackson) were inside the SUV. After a day of swimming and drinking they had a flat tire. They had initially pulled into a farm, where they tried and failed to steal a truck. They then drove onto Gerald’s property where they tried to start an ATV.
Gerald and his son saw two men jump back into the SUV, which quickly backed up and started to drive away. Gerald kicked the tail light of the SUV and his son smashed the front windshield with a hammer.
As the SUV drove away, it crashed into Gerald’s car. Gerald proceeded to his shed to grab a semi-automatic handgun as he was afraid for his son’s safety. He testified that he loaded two shells in the magazine. He then fired two warning shots.
Gerald testified he feared that the SUV had run over his wife. He then ran as fast as he could back to the SUV. When he heard the SUV engine rev, he went to the driver’s window to reach in with his left hand to turn off the ignition. He testified that the gun went off accidently at that moment, but he never pulled the trigger.
Jackson testified that she heard Gerald tell his son to “go get a gun”. She stated that Gerald retrieved a gun from the shop and she saw him shoot Boushie twice in the head.
Sheldon testified that he heard a gunshot as he walked up the deck leading to his house, and then another one as he entered the home. He then heard a third gunshot when he came out of the house. He saw his father by the SUV’s driver’s window with a semi-automatic pistol in one hand. Sheldon recalled his dad saying, “It just went off. I just wanted to scare them.”
Forensic investigation determined that Boushie was shot with a Tokarev semiautomatic pistol that was found in Gerald’s home.
DEFENCE AND PROSECUTION
In addressing the jury, Gerald’s defence lawyers emphasized the inconsistencies in the testimony of the witnesses from the SUV. The defence argued that there was no evidence that Gerald meant to kill Boushie. The defence took the position that it was a freak accident that ended in tragedy.
On the other hand, the Crown prosecutors argued that Gerald had fired two warning shots in the air and then walked up to the SUV Boushie was in and intentionally shot Boushie in the head. The Crown also explained to the jury that if they were not convinced that Gerald had an intention to kill Boushie, they must consider him guilty of manslaughter. It was argued that a verdict of manslaughter would be appropriate because Gerald acted unlawfully by carelessly using a firearm.
INSTRUCTIONS TO THE JURY
Chief Justice Martel Popescul addressed the jury following the lawyers’ closing arguments and set out the three possible verdicts:
- Guilty of second degree murder;
- Guilty of manslaughter; or
- Not guilty.
The Crown bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Both the Crown and defence agreed that it was established beyond a reasonable doubt that Gerald caused the death of Boushie. The real question put to the jury was whether Gerald caused Boushie’s death unlawfully by committing an assault or whether the shooting was an unintentional act that had unintended consequences.
Chief Justice Popescul instructed the jury that it was within Gerald’s rights to get his gun and fire warning shots into the air, but the jury must decide whether the actions he took after that continued to be lawful.
THE ROLE OF THE JURY
Every Canadian charged with a crime has the right to a fair trial before an impartial tribunal, this includes an impartial jury. Jury trials are made up of 12 adult laypersons from the community who are required to listen carefully to the evidence and arguments from both sides and unanimously agree on a verdict. Jury verdicts, representing a cross-section of Canadian society, are meant to symbolize that the community has spoken.
Each side, the Crown prosecutor and defence, has a number of peremptory challenges (the number varies with the offence charged). These peremptory challenges allow each lawyer to automatically disqualify potential jurors, no explanations required.
Lawyers can also “challenge for cause”, which involves a judge asking potential jurors pre-approved questions, including whether they may have a bias in the case.
After all of the evidence has been called and the lawyers have presented their arguments, the judge instructs the jury on the law and advises them on what must be taken into account when making their decision. The jurors then proceed to discuss the case amongst themselves and must come to a unanimous agreement on the verdict. After the trial, the jurors are not allowed to divulge the discussions that took place in the jury room.
If you have been charged with a serious offence, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We are available 24/7 to assist you when you need us most.