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.
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