The offence of homicide is categorized as first-degree, second-degree murder and manslaughter. These offences are most often tried before a judge and jury. Not all murder is first-degree. The offence of first-degree murder requires the killing be planned and deliberate or occurred in the course of another specified criminal offence, a “hit for hire”, the killing of a police officer, sexual assault, kidnapping or forcible confinement for example. A conviction for first-degree murder calls for an automatic sentence of life imprisonment with no chance at parole for 25 years. Second degree murder requires that the killing be intentional. Though life imprisonment is also automatic, parole is possible after 10 years for a conviction of second-degree murder. Finally, the offence of manslaughter requires that death be caused by an unlawful act. The sanction for a manslaughter conviction is left up to the judge.
Whatever the specific charge, defending a homicide case requires considerable experience and knowledge. The volume of disclosure is enormous and can include technical evidence such as DNA reports, ballistic and firearm reports and blood pattern reports. These reports are often presented in court by experts with impressive qualifications whose evidence must be carefully challenged in order to advance a full defence. From time to time, the prosecution or Crown, may attempt to introduce “social science” evidence that without a proper challenge can be persuasive to a jury. For example, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently overturned a conviction where the Crown was allowed to introduce evidence with respect to the meaning of tattoos. That evidence was ultimately, on appeal, ruled to be inadmissible and not able to be utilized by the prosecution at the trial.
Defences to a murder charge can include identification, alibi, self-defence, and intoxication to name just a few. The Criminal Code also includes a number of related provisions that are connected to homicide such as conspiracy to commit murder, accessory (after the fact) to murder and aiding and abetting, or being a party, to murder. It goes without saying that an experienced trial lawyer is essential in cases such as these.