Homicide and Murder Defence Lawyer in Ottawa
Homicide is a serious criminal offence that involves taking another person’s life, either through indirect or direct actions. It is a broad term used to describe several different types of homicide.
In Canada, there are three sub-categories of homicide a person may be charged with: manslaughter, first degree murder, and second degree murder. The differences have to do with the level and degree of responsibility the suspect contributed towards the death.
First Degree Murder
First degree murder is the highest level of a homicide criminal offence, defined by courts as the deliberate and planned murder of another person. The homicide is considered deliberate if the suspect’s actions were intentional and purposeful. The planning does not need to be complex or detailed, nor does the deliberation have to be elaborate. When defining homicide as first degree murder, all that the courts are concerned with is whether there was some form of planning at any point, and whether the suspect deliberately and successfully carry out their plan. A failed plan to murder another person normally results in being charged with attempted murder.
There are two exceptions where planning isn’t a factor in declaring first degree murder. First, if a suspect had knowledge that the deceased was a police officer or other law enforcement office, the homicide is always considered first degree murder. The second exception is if someone is killed during the commission of another criminal act, like sexual assault offences, kidnapping, hostage taking, forcible confinement, terrorism, intimidation, hijacking, or any other offence committed on behalf of a criminal organization.
Second Degree Murder
A homicide is second degree murder when it does not meet the requirements of first degree murder. In order to be categorized as murder, regardless of the degree, there must have been actual intent to kill someone.
A homicide is considered manslaughter when it is not murder of either the first or second degree. Because murder requires the actual intention to kill another person, manslaughter is used for homicides where there was zero intent to kill the victim. There are various forms of manslaughter, but the two most common are manslaughter by criminal negligence and unlawful act manslaughter.
Manslaughter by criminal negligence occurs when a person’s act or omission resulted in the death of another person. The offence requires that the death or bodily harm was foreseeable and preventable, and that a reasonable person would have recognized that another person’s life in danger.
Unlawful act manslaughter occurs when the accused is doing something illegal and their actions result in the unintentional killing of another person. For example, if someone assaults a victim without the intention to actually kill them, but unintentionally causes the person to die.
Common Defences to Murder Charges
Murder committed while provoked might result in the charges being reduced to manslaughter. The courts view provocation as an action that deprives ordinary people of the power of self-control, therefore negating the intent to kill. Drunkenness and/or any drug induced mental state that affect a person’s ability to satisfy the intent to kill requirement of murder may also reduce the homicide charge to manslaughter.
Sentences for Murder and Manslaughter Offences
The courts view murder and manslaughter as serious criminal offences that carry the strictest sentencing. Even though the courts categorize homicides to help distinguish between the extent the accused contributed towards the death, first degree murder, second degree murder, and manslaughter all carry strict penalties.
Any person found guilty of a first or second degree murder charge is automatically sentenced to life in prison. Guilty persons convicted of first degree murder are not eligible for parole until they have served a minimum of 25 years in prison. Individuals found guilty of second degree murder might be eligible for parole after a minimum of 10 years in prison, at the judge’s discretion.
The maximum penalty for manslaughter is life in prison. The length of the prison sentence has no minimum requirement and is left entirely for the trial judge to determine, in most cases. In cases where another criminal act was being committed, the suspect could be charged with multiple criminal offences. For example, if an individual used a firearm while robbing a store and killed someone during the robbery, the minimum prison sentence is automatically four years for the manslaughter charge. The accused could also face additional time in prison for the robbery charge.