Defending Murder Charges Down to Manslaughter

September 15, 2021

When a human being is killed, it is always a serious criminal offence. In Canada, the charges generally fall under three main categories: murder, manslaughter, and criminal negligence causing death. In this post, we’ll discuss these categories and examine some of the ways that lawyers can argue a case to have the murder charges reduced to manslaughter. 

Charges of Murder

According to the Canadian Criminal Code, 1st Degree Murder is defined as: 

“Any intentional killing of another that is planned and deliberate or where a murder takes place as a result of an arrangement for an exchange of money or anything of value, where the victim is an agent of the government relating to the criminal justice system, if it stems from any sexual assault offence, relates to a criminal organization or terrorism, forcible confinement or criminal harassment. (CC, s 231, ss4-6)

Manslaughter is killing that is less than murder and is defined as “where the accused committed the offence ‘in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation’ where they acted suddenly without sufficient time for their passion to cool off.” 

Criminal Negligence Causing Death is when the death was because of a careless act or failure to act that showed disregard for the life of another. 

Manslaughter Vs. Involuntary Manslaughter

Manslaughter is a killing where the intent is less than murder. Many times it is difficult to prove the intent of a person and it may come down to what the accused was thinking at the time of the killing. Criminal defence lawyers can use this uncertainty to argue that the accused did cause harm but did not intend on killing the person, resulting in a conviction of manslaughter instead of murder, and a much lighter sentence. 

Involuntary Manslaughter is unintentional homicide where there is no intention for killing. It can be caused by negligence or recklessness and most often is the charge when a driver kills someone driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. An involuntary manslaughter sentence does not carry a mandatory life sentence and will depend on the circumstances of the case. 

How Lawyers Defend Against Murder Charges

To be convicted of 1st-degree murder, the Crown must prove that the accused planned and intended to kill the victim. Understanding what the accused was thinking before and at the time of the murder is crucial and this is often very difficult to prove. The police will attempt to interview the accused to establish their mindset and that they were aware that their actions could lead to the death of the individual. 

According to the s. 34 (1) of the Criminal Code, the Court must also take other considerations into account when hearing a murder case such as: 

  1.  The nature of the force or threat;
  2.  The extent to which the use of force was imminent and whether there were other means available to respond to the potential use of force;
  3.  The person’s role in the incident;
  4.  Whether any party to the incident used or threatened to use a weapon;
  5.  The size, age, gender and physical capabilities of the parties to the incident;
  6.  The nature, duration and history of any relationship between the parties to the incident, including any prior use or threat of force and the nature of that force or threat; any history of interaction or communication between the parties to the incident;
  7.  The nature and proportionality of the person’s response to the use or threat of force; and
  8.  Whether the act was committed was in response to a use or threat of force that the person knew was lawful.”

An experienced criminal defence lawyer can use these factors to defend against charges of murder. If you face charges of murder, speaking to the police about your case without a lawyer present may put you in a vulnerable position if you divulge information that can be used against you. 

If you have been accused of murder, make sure you have a successful criminal lawyer in your corner. William Jaksa has over a decade of experience as a criminal defence attorney in Toronto and has successfully defended clients charged with murder. For a consultation on your charges and your best chance for the best outcome, contact William Jaksa today. 


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