New Brunswick Appeal Court Overturns Murder Conviction

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

New Brunswick’s highest court recently quashed Dennis Oland’s second-degree murder conviction in the death of his father, stating that the jury had sufficient evidence to reasonably convict Dennis Oland of murder, but had been improperly instructed on what was needed to arrive at that conclusion.

Error by Original Trial Judge

In a 41-page decision written by Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau on behalf of a three-judge panel, the Chief Justice stated that the original trial judge had erred in his instructions to the jury on an issue of “significant importance.”

The ultimate verdict was not unreasonable, but the case was not one “where the evidence pointing to guilt is so overwhelming that the outcome would necessarily have been the same, with or without the [trial judge’s] error,”

Chief Justice Drapeau stated that:

No accused is entitled to a perfectly instructed jury. However, the appellant, like all who elect to be tried by judge and jury, had the right to a properly instructed jury

Key Piece of Evidence: Hugo Boss Jacket

The error pertains to a key piece of evidence that had been used against Oland: a brown Hugo Boss sports jacket. Oland had told police that he had been wearing a navy-blue blazer when he visited his father at his office (where he was later found bludgeoned to death). Oland was the last known person to have seen his father alive. It later emerged that Oland had actually been wearing a brown Hugo Boss sports jacket when he visited his father.

A brown sport jacket was seized from Oland’s bedroom closet a week after his father’s death. Forensic evidence shoes that the jacket (which had been dry cleaned) had four small bloodstains matching his father’s DNA on it.

The original trial judge had informed the jurors that if they found Oland’s statement about which jacket he was wearing was an “intentional lie” related to the commission of the murder, they could consider this evidence, along with all other evidence in the case, in making their ultimate decision.

Chief Justice Drapeau stated that these instructions were “erroneous in law” and prejudicial to the defence.

The Appeal Court believes that there was “independent” evidence at the trial to suggest that Oland’s “false statement” to St. John police about what jacket he had been wearing the night his father was murdered was “concocted”.

The Court stated that the jury could have reasonably concluded that Oland’s story that he had been wearing a navy-blue blazer when he visited his father, instead of the brown sports jacket that he had actually been wearing was “a lie and not an honest mistake as he alleged”. In addition, there had been evidence from which the jury could have inferred that Oland was involved in the delivery of the blood-stained sport jacket to the dry cleaners.

The jury should have been told that it cannot rely on a deliberately false statement as a piece of circumstantial evidence in favour of the prosecution unless there was independent evidence that the statement had been made up. In addition, any such independent evidence should have been pointed out to the jury.

Chief Justice Drapeau stated that he expects the issue will be “fully debated” at Oland’s retrial, and that the burden of presenting any independent evidence will be on the prosecutors.

Request for Supreme Court of Canada Review

The court’s written reasons in support of their decision to quash the guilty verdict were not released until January 11. Prior to the release of the written decision, prosecutors had announced that they plan to ask the Supreme Court to Canada to review the decision to quash.

In order to obtain leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, prosecutors must successfully argue that the legal issues involved are of national importance and that they are worthy of review by the highest court in the land.

Waiting for the appeal court’s written decisions may help the prosecutors with their application for leave to appeal.  Generally, parties have 60 days from the date of a decision to file an application for leave. In this instance, that 60-day period lapsed on December 23, 2016. However, both prosecutors and Oland’s defense team had filed a joint request earlier in December seeking an extension. It remains to be seen what will happen with the status of the application.

Retrial

A retrial will not be scheduled until the Supreme Court decides whether it will agree to the extension requested by the prosecution and defense, and hear the appeal.

The Court is expected to make a decision as soon as April. If a new trial proceeds, it likely will not be heard until 2018. In the interim, Oland is out on bail.

We will continue to follow developments in this matter and will blog updates as they become available.

If you have questions about your rights, contact the skilled Oshawa defense lawyers at Affleck Barrison online or at 905 404 1947. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services and a free confidential consultation. We are available when you need us most.