appeal

12 Year Sentence for Vigilante Justice Upheld

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Alberta Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld Steven Vollrath’s (“Vollrath”) 12-year prison sentence for cutting off his victim’s thumb during an abduction in a case of vigilantism.

Two of the three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that Vollrath’s sentence at trial was appropriate for the well planned “revenge kidnapping”.

The Appeal Court denounced vigilantism and stated:

Vigilantism undermines the rule of law and interferes with the administration of justice. As a general rule, those who engage in it should be dealt with severely.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In May, 2013, Richard Suter (“Suter”) was parked next to a restaurant when he and his wife began having an argument. He failed to put his car in park, and as the car proceeded forward, he unintentionally pushed on the accelerator instead of the brake. The car advanced onto the restaurant’s patio striking and killing a two-year-old child.

Suter was convicted of failing to provide a breath sample. The trial judge found that the accident was caused by driver error and not drunkenness. The Supreme Court of Canada reduced Suter’s 26-month sentence to the 10 months he had already served in jail.

While Suter was awaiting trial, Vollrath, dressed as a police officer, and two accomplices rang Suter’s doorbell and abducted him in front of his wife. His captors revealed that the reason he was being abducted was that he had hit and killed a child with his car. Suter was taken to a snowy field, his thumb was cut off with pruning shears, and he was left unconscious in the snow.

Vollrath was convicted in 2016 of kidnapping, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon, and impersonating a police officer. Vollrath had a lengthy criminal record, including violent and weapons offences.

SENTENCING PRINCIPLES

According to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the purpose of sentencing is to protect society and to impose sanctions that meet the following objectives:

  • denounce unlawful conduct;
  • deter the offender and others from committing offences;
  • separate offenders from society;
  • assist in rehabilitating offenders;
  • provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community; and
  • promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledge the harm done to victims or to the community.

Sentencing must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.

In deciding on an appropriate sentence, the Court must consider aggravating and mitigating factors, sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences, and all available sanctions other than imprisonment must be considered.

In Mr. Vollrath’s case, the Court considered the following aggravating factors:

  • he did not act alone;
  • there was advance planning involved in committing the offences;
  • he impersonated a police officer with the purpose of facilitating another offence;
  • the incident began at the Suter’s home;
  • the kidnapping and assault were targeted;
  • leaving Suter maimed and unconscious in a deserted area showed a callous indifference to whether he lived or died;
  • the lasting physical harm to Suter;
  • the psychological impact to both Mr. and Mrs. Suter;
  • Vollrath’s extensive criminal record; and
  • Vollrath was on release at the time of the offences.

The Court is also obligated to consider background factors for aboriginal offenders and to consider how these factors affect the offending behaviour. In Mr. Vollrath’s case, the Court found that he had no connection with his aboriginal culture at the time he became incarcerated. Furthermore, the Court held that Vollarth’s dysfunctional background was not connected to his aboriginal history as his biological father, who was a Metis man, left him when he was very young.

In coming to a conclusion in her 2016 sentencing decision, Justice E. A. Johnson of the Provincial Court of Alberta felt that the most important objective was to “denounce the acts and to deter Mr. Vollrath and others from engaging in this kind of behaviour.” Justice Johnson also considered the objectives of separating the offender from society and rehabilitation. Therefore, Justice Johnson concluded that 12 years of incarceration were fitting given the seriousness of the offence, the degree of responsibility of the offender, the aggravating factors, and the need for denunciation and deterrence.  The majority of the Alberta Court of Appeal agreed with this sentencing decision.

WHAT COMES NEXT FOR VOLLRATH?

At the Court of Appeal, the dissenting judge held that Vollrath should have been sentenced to nine years in jail after taking into account the deprivations of his childhood.

Given that there was a dissenting opinion on appeal, Vollrath has the option of appealing his case to the Supreme Court of Canada. However, the Supreme Court of Canada will only hear a case if it is convinced that the case involves a question of public importance. Approximately 1 out of 10 cases that request “leave” to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada receive permission.

We will continue to follow this case and will report any developments on this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced and knowledgeable 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. We are available when you need us most.

‘Spiderman’ Has Murder Conviction Overturned

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

 

Shawn Vassel (“Vassel”) has spent seven years in prison and has recently had his conviction overturned and a new trial ordered by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In 2011, Vassel was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of a Mississauga man during a drug deal turned robbery that occurred in 2007.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Vassel was nicknamed the “Spiderman killer” after he scaled down 11 floors of a North York apartment building in his attempt to flee the police.

Vassel was confronted by police at his mother’s apartment on the 18th floor. He exited the balcony and began rappelling from one floor to the next, finally appearing outside of the building and was eventually caught by the police after a chase on foot.

Vassel was arrested and charged for the murder of Husam Dagheim (“Dagheim”). Dagheim was shot at point-blank range in the parking lot of the Coliseum movie theatre in Mississauga during an attempted drug deal.

Vassel testified at his trial that he “risked his life” in his attempt to escape the police because he didn’t want to go to jail for a crime that he alleged he did not commit.

Vassel was sentenced to an automatic life sentence with eligibility for parole at 16 years. He has an extensive criminal record, which includes robbery, drug trafficking, and assault.

THE TRIAL

At issue at Vassel’s trial was the identity of Dagheim’s killer.

The Crown’s star witness, a former friend of Vassel, Michael Agba (“Agba”), testified that he was present during the botched drug deal and witnessed Vassel holding the loaded gun before the murder took place. During cross-examination by Vassel’s lawyer, Agba was accused of lying in order to secure a plea deal. Agba was originally charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

There were no other witnesses that could identify the shooter, including the deceased’s wife who was seated beside her husband in a minivan at the time of his death.

Vassel testified at his own trial that he was not at the crime scene. He also testified that he lent his friends his girlfriend’s rental car for the planned robbery at the drug deal. Vassel suggested that the real killer was either Agba or another friend who were both present during the drug deal.

Cellphone records were introduced as evidence to prove that Vassel was at a townhouse complex on Ridgeway Drive in Mississauga at the time of the killing.

THE APPEAL

Vassel appealed both his conviction and the period of parole fixed by the trial judge. Vassel’s counsel argued that the trial judge made several errors regarding the admissibility of evidence and his instructions to the jury.

One of the grounds of appeal argued by Vassel’s counsel was that the trial judge erred by instructing the jury to take caution and particular care with Vassel’s evidence at trial.

In a criminal trial, all parties are entitled to a properly instructed jury. An appellate court ,when assessing a judge’s jury charge, must take a functional approach to determine whether the instructions, read as a whole, provide the jury with the necessary tools to render a verdict.

The trial judge instructed the jurors to apply the same factors in assessing Vassel’s testimony as they would any other witness. Justice Tulloch specifically stated:

Mr. Vassel has given evidence that may tend to show that either Mr. David Grant or Mr. Agba was the shooter as he was not on at the scene of the crime on the night in question. You should consider that testimony of Mr. Vassel with particular care because he may have been more concerned about protecting himself than about telling the truth. Bear that in mind when you decide how much or little you can believe of and rely upon what Mr. Vassel told you about Mr. Grant’s involvement in deciding this case.

Vassel argued, on appeal, that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury about the manner in which the jury was to assess the testimony of the appellant (the person who applies to a higher court for a reversal of the decision of a lower court).

The Appeal Court agreed with Vassel’s arguments and held that the trial judge’s instruction was problematic in terms of its impact regarding Vassel’s alibi (Vassel’s primary defence).

The Court of Appeal held that this instruction to the jury by the Judge was one of several errors. The Court stated:

In these circumstances, the inclusion of this reference had the effect of adding a level of scrutiny to the alibi evidence that was unwarranted and constitutes error.

Given that the Court of Appeal determined that the trial judge made multiple errors, Vassel’s appeal was allowed, his conviction was set aside, and a new trial was ordered. Vassel can apply for bail as he awaits his retrial.

We will continue to follow developments in this case as it makes it way through the court system and will provide updates in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights. For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service. We are available when you need us most.

Crown Prosecutors Appealing Decision in Toronto Police Breach of Trust Case

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Kyle Upjohn (“Upjohn”), an officer with ten years of experience on the police force, was charged with the offence of breach of trust by a public officer contrary to section 122 of the Criminal Code and following a preliminary inquiry he was committed to stand trial. Upjohn successfully brought an application to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice seeking to quash the order committing him to stand trial.

A Crown prosecutor is appealing the decision to quash Upjohn’s criminal trial to Ontario’s highest court maintaining that the lower court Judge erred. Milan Rupic, Crown prosecutor, claims that Justice Maureen Forestall erred in failing to consider “the whole of the evidence” when considering Upjohn’s intent.

Rupic contends that Upjohn allegedly refused to help stop a young man commit suicide in High Park and should stand trial as the cop “knowingly avoided a duty of vital importance”.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On February 2, 2016, a concerned citizen reported to Upjohn, who was parked in his marked police vehicle in High Park, that a young man was preparing to hang himself in the park. Instead of coming to the aid of Alexandre Boucher (“Boucher”), Upjohn allegedly falsely claimed he was on another call and told the man to dial 911 and then drove away.

Subsequently, Upjohn was dispatched to attend to the park where Boucher, a 19-year-old, was later pronounced dead.

Initially, Upjohn was charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life. These charges were withdrawn and Upjohn was charged with breach of trust by a public officer.

THE LOWER COURT DECISION

On application to the Superior Court of Justice, Upjohn’s lawyer argued that a breach of trust case required evidence that the accused had a dishonest or corrupt ulterior purpose for avoiding the call, and that there was no such evidence of this nature.  Justice Forestell agreed with this position and quashed Upjohn’s committal to stand trial.

THE ARGUMENTS ON APPEAL

The Crown prosecutor has filed an appeal at the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Crown argues that Justice Forestell erred in her decision to quash the trial by failing to consider the “whole of the evidence” in terms of Upjohn’s intent.

The Crown argues that the evidence supports the inference that Upjohn “knowingly avoided a duty of vital importance by means of a deceit”. Furthermore, the evidence demonstrates that in avoiding his public duty, Upjohn was untrustworthy and the breach of his duty was not for the public good.

The Crown stated:

This was not an innocent mistake. Upjohn masked his failure to act with dishonesty – by lying about being “on a call”. The lie suggests that Upjohn knew what he was doing wrong, that he was intentionally using his office for a purpose other than the public good.

The appeal in this case is scheduled to be heard in November, 2018.

WHAT IS BREACH OF TRUST?

A charge of breach of trust by a public officer is laid when an official is accused of violating the standard of conduct and responsibility demanded by his/her position.

Section 122 of the Criminal Code reads as follows:

Every official who, in connection with the duties of his office, commits fraud or a breach of trust is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, whether or not the fraud or breach of trust would be an offence if it were committed in relation to a private person.

The Supreme Court of Canada set out the elements of the offence of breach of trust by a public officer in R. v. Boulanger:

  1. The accused is an official;
  2. The accused was acting in connection with the duties of his office;
  3. The accused breached the standard of responsibility and conduct demanded of him by the nature of the office;
  4. The conduct of the accused represented a serious and marked departure from the standards expected of an individual in the accused’s position of public trust; and
  5. The accused acted with the intention to use his public office for a purpose other than the public good, for example, for a dishonest, partial, corrupt, or oppressive purpose.

UPJOHN’S CURRENT STATUS

Currently, Upjohn remains suspended with pay from the Toronto Police Service since May 2016.

Upjohn is also accused of three counts of professional misconduct under Ontario’s Police Services Act, including neglect of duty and acting in a disorderly manner.

Under this Act, disciplinary hearings are conducted by police services.   A hearing officer must decide whether the allegations of misconduct have been proven on clear and convincing evidence. If an officer is found guilty of misconduct, appropriate penalties may be imposed, including:

  • a reprimand;
  • a direction to undergo specific counselling, treatment or training;
  • a direction to participate in a specified program or activity;
  • forfeiture of pay or time off;
  • suspension without pay;
  • demotion; or
  • dismissal.

We will report in this blog any developments in this case as they occur, including the decision on appeal.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal 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. We are available when you need us most.

Plans to Appeal to the Supreme Court as Seizure of Blood by Police in Dispute

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

On July 25, 2018, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld Christie Ann Culotta’s (“Culotta”) convictions on two counts of operating a vessel causing bodily harm while having a blood-alcohol content over the legal limit. This was a split decision, with a two-judge majority and Justice Gladys Pardu dissenting.

It has been reported that Culotta intends to take her case to the Supreme Court of Canada to determine the legality of taking extra blood samples from a suspected impaired boater in a hospital for use by the police.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On August 1, 2013 at approximately 2am, Culotta was driving a boat back to her family cottage from a party at a yacht club on Muskoka Lake. It was raining heavily and visibility was poor. There were four other young women on board.

Culotta was driving the boat at a “relatively high speed, fast enough that the hull planed above the water”. She then crashed into a rocky island, leaving a white V-shaped mark on the rocks above the waterline.

Three of the passengers were ejected from the boat, one landing on the island and two in the water. All three passenger were injured, fortunately there were no fatalities.

Culotta was not seriously injured and spoke with the investigating officer after the boaters were rescued. Ambulances rushed the two seriously injured victims to the hospital, while Culotta and two others with minor injuries were treated by ambulance.

An Ontario Provincial Police officer smelled alcohol in the ambulance and asked Culotta if she had been drinking. She admitted that she had a vodka and tonic and one or two additional drinks at dinner. The officer observed Culotta’s watery eyes and a slight slurring in her speech, but he was unsure whether this was from intoxication, crying, rain, or facial injuries.

Culotta was arrested a little more than an hour after the accident, but the officer did not immediately caution her about her right to silence in order to avoid interference with her medical care. She was cautioned half an hour later at the hospital. The officer tried to contact Culotta’s father in order for her to retain a lawyer, but to no avail.

In hospital, doctors took blood tests for medical purposes, including to test her blood alcohol. At trial, it became apparent that the officer told the lab technician that he wanted to seal some of the blood for investigative purposes. The technician drew more blood than was medically required, without Culotta’s consent. Two of the six vials of blood were sealed by the OPP officer and placed on a shelf in the laboratory refrigerator that was marked “for police use”. The blood was tested for alcohol content after a warrant was granted.

Blood tests revealed 107 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood, which is over the legal limit of 80.

The trial judge excluded the blood sample evidence, but admitted Culotta’s hospital records, which showed a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. The trial judge also found that Culotta’s statements to the police were found to be voluntary.

Culotta was convicted in a judge alone trial.

ONTARIO COURT OF APPEAL

At the Court of Appeal, Culotta contested the trial judge’s rulings with respect to the admissibility of evidence that she maintains were obtained in violation of her rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”).

The two judge majority agreed with the trial judge in finding that Culotta’s statements to the police were voluntary and that her hospital records were properly obtained with a search warrant.  Justice V.B. Nordheimer, writing on behalf of the majority, wrote:

Whether the lab technician did or did not take other blood samples for the police, some blood would have been taken from the appellant, and it would have been tested for blood-alcohol concentration regardless. Consequently, the Charter infringement regarding the two vials of blood is independent of the other blood samples taken. The exclusion of one does not undermine the admissibility and evidentiary value of the other.

JUSTICE PARDU’S DISSENTING OPINION

Justice Pardu, in her dissenting opinion at the Court of Appeal, was of the opinion that the Charter breaches were serious grounds to quash the convictions and order a new trial.

Justice Pardu found that Culotta’s hospital records, which included an analysis of her blood, should be excluded. She was especially concerned that the hospital had a tray in its refrigerator specifically reserved for police blood samples and a special form for when blood is taken at the request of police.

Justice Pardu, in her dissenting opinion, wrote:

Co-opting extra blood samples was a serious breach by police. There are statutory regimes prescribed for the taking of breath or blood samples where impaired driving offences are suspected. These regimes must be well known to police. For police to sidestep these procedures by inserting themselves into an accused person’s medical care is a grave misstep.

Calutta’s lawyers have disclosed their intention to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Given that the Court of Appeal was a split decision, Calutta can automatically appeal the decision without seeking leave from the Court.

We will continue to follow any developments in this case as it proceeds to the Supreme Court of Canada in this blog. In the meantime, if you have been charged with an impaired 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 take all steps necessary to protect your best interests. We maintain a 24-hour emergency service line and offer free confidential consultation to all prospective clients.

 

 

Acquittal for Man Convicted in Violent Home Invasion

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Ontario Court of Appeal acquitted Dino Phillips (“Phillips”) of 19 convictions, which included possession of a firearm, uttering death threats, kidnapping, unlawful confinement, robbery, breaking and entering, mischief, and pointing a firearm.

Phillips’ case took almost six years to get through the courts. It was one of the longest ever at the London courthouse.

He was sentenced in October, 2015 to eight years in prison after a jury found him guilty of 19 charges stemming from a home invasion and armed robbery in 2009.  The question at the trial was whether Phillips was one of the three men involved in the crimes.

Phillips was identified from a photo lineup by one of the participants of the crimes. However, there was no physical or forensic evidence linking Phillips to the crimes.

The Ontario Court of Appeal held that the trial judge erred in her instructions on how the jury should treat the identification evidence, particularly the in-dock identification and the photo lineup evidence.

As the Court of Appeal found that the verdict was unreasonable in that no reasonable jury could convict Phillips on the evidence in the case, a new trial was not ordered and Phillips was acquitted of all charges.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On May 8, 2009, Shawn George (“George”), Floyd Deleary (“Deleary”), and an unidentified man set out to rob George’s drug dealer at his apartment in London, Ontario.

At the time of the intrusion, the dealer’s girlfriend, her infant daughter, and sister were also at the dealer’s apartment. Deleary held a gun to the girlfriend’s head and the other two men tied up the dealer and girlfriend. The girlfriend’s sister was forced to look for money. The intruders were angered by the amount of money that was in the apartment and threatened to kill all of its occupants.

George and Deleary did not cover their faces and referred to each other by their first names. The third intruder was described as a “black man” who had his face covered and threatened to kill anyone who looked at him.

Unsatisfied with the amount of money in the dealer’s home, the “black man” and Deleary stole the girlfriend’s car and forced their way into the home of the drug dealer’s parents. They proceeded to tie up the occupants of the home and rob them at gunpoint. George was driving another vehicle with the intention of meeting up with the robbers, but drove off when he thought he saw an undercover police car.

After they heard sirens, the “black man” jumped out of the bedroom window and ran away.

Deleary was later arrested in the stolen car, while George was not arrested until February 23, 2010.

Phillips was arrested shortly thereafter following his identification by George in a photo lineup.

PHOTO LINEUP IDENTIFICATION

Following his arrest, George told police that he only knew the “black man” as “Virus”, but would be able to identify him.

Detective Constable Ellyatt prepared a photo lineup of twelve different men. Phillips was the fifth in the lineup. George identified Phillips as the man he knew as Virus.

The police did not perform a photo lineup for any of the other witnesses.

The Court of Appeal held that the photo lineup was so problematic as to render George’s identification of Phillips as worthless. Further, the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury regarding the nature of identification problems, thus causing the trial to be unfair.

IN-DOCK IDENTIFICATION

During the preliminary inquiry (held to determine if there is enough evidence for an individual to be tried on their charges), witnesses were asked to identify who the “black man” was. Phillips was the only black man in the courtroom at the time of the preliminary inquiry.

Several witnesses pointed to Phillips in the courtroom. However, the drug dealer and the girlfriend’s sister could not identify the “black man”.

One witness testified that Phillips looked similar to the “black man”.

The trial judge instructed the jury to be cautious when relying on eyewitness testimony and alerted them to the possibility of mistakes.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial judge’s failure to instruct the jury concerning the dangers of in-dock identification was an error that undermined the fairness of the trial. The Court described the circumstances involving the in-dock identification as “egregious”. The victims had not been shown a photo lineup as it “never occurred” to the police to administer one and they only had one black man to choose from in the courtroom (the black man who had been charged with the crimes). The Court described this as highly prejudicial.

UNREASONABLE VERDICT

The question before the Court of Appeal was “whether, considering the evidence as a whole, the verdict was one that a properly instructed jury, acting judicially, could reasonably have rendered”.

Given that George’s pre-trial identification of Phillips was severely flawed, there was no independent confirmatory evidence supporting his identification, and there was no forensic evidence tying Phillips to the crimes, the Court of Appeal was “satisfied that no reasonable jury could have convicted the appellant [Phillips] on the evidence in this case, even assuming the jury had been charged properly”.

Therefore, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, set aside the convictions, and entered acquittals on all charges.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about charges laid against you or your legal rights, call Affleck & Barrison LLP at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24/7.

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.

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.

Nova Scotia’s Top Court Orders New Trial for Taxi Driver Acquitted of Sexual Assault

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Nova Scotia’s Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial for a taxi driver who was acquitted of sexually assaulting an intoxicated female passenger because he could not determine whether the victim consented before she passed out.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On May 22, 2015, police found taxi driver, Bassam Al-Rawi, in a parked cab in Halifax’s south end. An unconscious female was found in the back seat with her legs propped up on the front seats, naked from the waist down with her breasts exposed. Al-Rawi was discovered leaning between the female’s open legs with his zipper undone and the back of his pants partly down. Al-Rawi was also found to be hiding a pair of the female’s urine-soaked pants and underwear.

Police woke the female complainant, who could only tell them her name, but not why she was there or what had happened.

Al-Rawi was charged with sexual assault (section 271 of the Criminal Code of Canada). He was tried before Judge Gregory E. Lenehan on March 1, 2017.

During the trial, a forensic alcohol specialist testified that the female was extremely intoxicated after drinking 5 beers, two tequila shots and one vodka-cranberry drink. The expert testified that she was drunk enough to forget events and lose track of her surroundings. It was determined that the woman’s blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit.

Judge Gregory Lenehan set out the requirements for finding Al-Rawi guilty of sexual assault. He stated:

In order for Mr. Al-Rawi to be convicted of the offence that’s before the court, the Crown have to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Al-Rawi touched (the complainant), that it was in such a way it violated her sexual integrity and that it was not done with her consent. In other words, it was done without her consent.

At trial, Judge Lenehan found it reasonable to conclude that Al-Rawi was engaging in or about to engage in sexual activity, but he acquitted Al-Rawi on the basis that the Crown had produced “no evidence” of lack of consent or lack of capacity to consent when Al-Rawi was touching the complainant. Judge Lenehan could not determine when the female had lost the capacity to communicate. He wrote that “[c]learly, a drunk can consent.” Judge Lenehan ruled that “[a] lack of memory does not equate to a lack of consent.”

THE DECISION ON APPEAL

The Crown prosecutor appealed the trial decision to a higher court on the basis of several legal errors made by the Judge at trial and requested an order for a new trial.

In the unanimous decision, the appeal court agreed that Judge Lenehan had made several errors in law. The appeal was allowed and a new trial was ordered.

Although the Court of Appeal did not find that Judge Lenehan had erred in law by stating that “a drunk can consent”, his application of the legal test for a person’s capacity to consent to sexual activity was a legal error. The trial judge held that the Crown had not proven incapacity beyond a reasonable doubt because it was unknown the “moment the complainant lost consciousness”. Thus, Judge Lenehan implied that prior to becoming unconscious the complainant would have had the capacity to consent. The Court of Appeal held that the trial judge erred in law by equating incapacity solely with unconsciousness.

The Court of Appeal also found that Judge Lenehan had erred in discounting the extensive circumstantial evidence that would have allowed him to infer that the complainant had not voluntarily agreed to engage in sexual activity, or that she lacked the capacity to do so. Some of the circumstantial evidence noted by the Court of Appeal included:

  • the complainant was unconscious when found by police;
  • Al-Rawi was trying to hide the urine-soaked pants and underwear from the police;
  • the location of the cab was not near the complainant’s home or on the route to the complainant’s home;
  • the complainant had no memory of her time in the cab;
  • the complainant’s blood alcohol level was between 223 and 244 mg/100mL; and
  • the complainant had to be shaken awake by police in the cab and woke up confused and upset.

Justice Duncan Beveridge wrote:

…there was ample circumstantial evidence that would permit a trier of fact to infer that the complainant did not consent or lacked the capacity to do so.

THE CAPACITY TO CONSENT

The trial judge or jury must determine if it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainant did not consent, or lacked the capacity to consent. In the Court of Appeal decision in this matter, Justice Beveridge set out the test for determining whether a complainant has the requisite capacity to consent.

In order to prove that the complainant did not have the required capacity to consent, the Crown must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainant did not have an operating mind capable of:

  • appreciating the nature and quality of the sexual activity; or
  • knowing the identity of the person or persons wishing to engage in the sexual activity; or
  • understanding he/she could agree or decline to engage in, or to continue, the sexual activity.

In cases where drugs or alcohol are involved and the complainant has little or no memory of the event, difficulties arise in determining whether the complainant had the capacity to consent. Absent direct evidence from the complainant that he/she did not consent, the judge or jury must rely on circumstantial evidence to determine the absence of consent.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

A new trial was ordered by the Court of Appeal. The date for the new trial has not been set. We will provide updates in this blog as new developments regarding this case become available.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a sexual assault 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.

Acquittal Upheld for Ontario Teacher Who Secretly Videotaped Female Students

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s decision to acquit a teacher who used a camera pen to video record the chest and cleavage of his female students. The top court in Ontario found that although the recording had been done for sexual purposes and was therefore inappropriate, the students had no reasonable expectation of privacy.

WHAT HAPPENED?

High school teacher, Ryan Jarvis, used a camera pen to video record the chest and cleavage of female students and one female teacher. The secret recordings were made in various locations in and around the school and involved 27 female students aged 14 to 18. Jarvis was observed by the principal of the school talking to a female student while holding a pen with a flashing red light at its top. The principal seized the pen and sent it to the police. The police found several recordings of female students focused on their breasts stored on the pen.

Jarvis was charged with voyeurism under section 162(1)(c) of the Criminal Code of Canada (“CC”).

In November 2015, Superior Court Justice Andrew Goodman found Jarvis not guilty of that offence. Justice Goodman held that Jarvis’ behaviour had been “morally repugnant and professionally objectionable”, but he did not find that the videos were sexually motivated.

The Crown prosecutor appealed this ruling and argued that Jarvis’ behaviour was sexually motivated since the subjects were all females and the camera was deliberately focused on their breasts.

The Court of Appeal was unanimous in concluding that the recording was both “surreptitious” and “done for a sexual purpose”. However, the majority of the Court found that the recording was made under circumstances that did not give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy and therefore upheld Jarvis’ acquittal at trial.

The majority of the Court stated “that we live in an open society where visual interaction is part of everyday life and is valued” and that students know they can be observed in places where they gather.

If a person is in a public place, fully clothed and not engaged in toileting or sexual activity, they will normally not be in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy.

WHAT IS VOYEURISM?

The criminal offence of voyeurism was added to the CC in 2005 to address public concerns that technology could be used to easily spy on individuals for sexual purposes.

According to section 162 of the CC, the offence of voyeurism can be committed in two ways, either through observation or by visual recording.

There are two separate conditions that must exist in order to be convicted of the offence of voyeurism:

  • the “surreptitious” nature of the observation/recording; and
  • the reasonable expectation of privacy.

The secret observation or recording must capture the image of a person’s genitals and/or breasts or sexual activity, or the observation/recording must occur for a sexual purpose.

It is also a crime to print, copy, publish, distribute, circulate, sell, advertise or make available the recording or image that was secretly obtained.

A secret or “surreptitious” recording has been interpreted by the courts using its ordinary dictionary meaning.   Some examples of surreptitious recordings that have been prosecuted as voyeurism include:

  • Video images captured by a camera concealed in a stepdaughter’s bedroom;
  • Video recording of teenage girl in a hotel shower by a camera concealed in a shaving bag;
  • Video images captured by a camera hidden in a wastebasket in an office washroom; and,
  • Video images of a man at a urinal in an office washroom taken through a cubicle.

Voyeurism is considered a hybrid offence. If the Crown proceeds by way of indictment (most serious), the maximum sentence is five years imprisonment. If the Crown proceeds by summary conviction, the maximum sentence is six months imprisonment.

A person convicted of voyeurism will be placed on Canada’s sexual offender registry for at least 10 years. A person convicted of multiple counts of voyeurism will placed on the registry for life.

If you are facing voyeurism charges, or charges related to any other sexual offences, or have any 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.

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.