Murder, Manslaughter and Attempted Murder
While all criminal charges will impact an accused’s life, there are some charges that will have such a massive impact, it is critical for a person charged to select an extremely effective and experienced lawyer. These charges include:
- Murder (first and second degree);
- Attempted Murder; and
These are the more serious offences. A conviction will result in a jail sentence, possibly for life. The central issue in distinguishing between these offences comes down to whether the accused had the intention to kill or not. Section 229 of the Criminal Code sets out that a person will be guilty of murder where that person causes the death of another person and the accused meant to cause death or meant to cause bodily harm that he knew was likely to cause death.
Section 231 provides that all murder that is not “first degree” murder is “second degree.” First degree murder requires, not only that the Crown prove the “intention to kill” element, but the Crown must additionally prove that the accused “planned and deliberated” the killing. Courts have interpreted this to mean “considered not impulsive.” Though in proving this additional element the Crown must prove that the accused calculated, schemed, or thought out a plan to kill, the plan need not be a complicated one. It is open for a court to find that a simple plan that is formulated a very short time before the killing amounts to first degree murder.
The penalties for murder are severe. Both first and second-degree murder convictions require mandatory life sentences. For second degree murder, there is a minimum of 10 years before the offender can be considered for parole; for first degree, there is a minimum 25 years of parole ineligibility.
Attempted murder involves the accused having the intent to kill and, who by any means attempts to carry out an act that would kill, but ends up not resulting in the death of the intended victim. There is a mandatory life sentence of imprisonment upon conviction. There is no mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility for attempted murder, unless the offence involves use of a firearm, in which case there is a mandatory minimum of 4 years in jail.
Section 236 of the Criminal Code sets out that a person convicted of manslaughter is liable to a mandatory life sentence of imprisonment. There is no mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility for manslaughter, unless the offence involves the use of a firearm, in which case there is a mandatory minimum of 4 years in jail. The Crown is not required that the accused had the intent to kill in a manslaughter case. Rather, the Crown need only prove that the death was the result of an unlawful act, such as an intentional or reckless application of force (i.e. an assault) by the accused upon the victim and that bodily harm was reasonably foreseeable.
Because of the serious consequences to all parties involved in murder and manslaughter cases, police will conduct very thorough investigations into all aspects of the file. They will have to prove all essential elements of the offence, including the identity of the perpetrator; that the actions of the perpetrator in fact caused death (“causation”); and, in murder cases, that the perpetrator intended to cause death.
Various police investigative techniques involve gathering statements from any eyewitnesses or other people who can comment on the whereabouts of the suspect at relevant times. Where there are no eyewitnesses, police will focus on various forensic identification techniques such as attempting to match DNA, fingerprints, or shoeprints of the suspect to the crime scene. They will also try to obtain any video or photographic surveillance evidence.
In order to prove that it was the actions of the accused, and not some other intervening factor, that caused the death of the victim, Crown counsel will often introduce medial expert evidence from a pathologist who will offer the court an opinion as to the cause of death. The expert will typically rely on other forensic evidence, such as blood spatter and the nature of the victim’s injuries in order to establish that it was the accused’s actions that caused death.
Because the accused’s state of mind is integral to whether an accused is guilty of first degree or second-degree murder, or of manslaughter, police investigators will try to obtain evidence from all sources in order to prove their case. The sources may be “circumstantial” sources, such as the number of injuries to the victim, or the sources may be direct, such as statements from witnesses, or even more directly, statements from the accused. As criminal defence lawyers, we are very aware of how important it is to a murder/manslaughter case for police to attempt to obtain statements from their suspect. In addition to direct interview attempts, police will often attempt to obtain indirect statements from their suspect by obtaining “wiretap” authorizations in order to intercept telephone and computer communications. Police will also conduct clandestine surveillance of murder/manslaughter suspects in an effort to gather evidence relating to the issue of the suspect’s intention to kill.