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“The killer must have had the specic intention to murder his victim at the time of the
offence,” explains criminal law lawyer Oliver Buttereld. The specic intent for murder
means either an intention to cause death or an intention to cause bodily harm that the
accused knew was likely to cause death, and he was reckless whether death ensued or not.
One feature of a murder trial that might cloud the issue of intent is the accused’s
drunkenness. If there is evidence that the accused was so impaired by alcohol or drugs
that he could not, or did not, form the specic intent for murder, the verdict may be
manslaughter rather than murder. Although drunkenness may be a defence to murder, it
cannot be a defence to manslaughter.
Other issues might arise in a murder trial that could affect the outcome. For instance, the
accused might suggest that the killing was an accident, or was done in self-defence. If the
Crown cannot disprove these defences beyond a reasonable doubt, then the accused will
be acquitted. The success of the defence of self-defence will depend on whether the force
used was reasonable in the circumstances. For instance, if the deceased attacks the accused
with his bare hands, a jury might nd it to be excessive for the accused to pull out a gun
and shoot him in the head.
“And there is a separate and special defence of provocation”, Buttereld advises. Even
if the Crown can prove that the accused intended to kill the deceased, he could still be
found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder if the jury nds that he was acting “in
the heat of passion” caused by sudden provocation arising from a wrongful act or insult
by the deceased.
Murder trials can become complicated when the accused raises a number of different
but interrelated defences at the same time, says Buttereld. For example, the accused
may raise all of these defences at the same time: accident, self-defence, drunkenness,
provocation, and automatism (involuntary behaviour). In these cases, the judge’s charge to
the jury may be long and complex. The jury is instructed to consider each of the defences
separately, and in conjunction with each other.

This article was written by Linda Rainaldi of the People’s Law School with funding
assistance from the Law Foundation of BC. Oliver Buttereld is a lawyer who practises
criminal law in Kelowna.
The purpose of this article is educational in nature. It is not intended as legal advice.
It offers general information only. If you have a legal problem, you should seek
professional advice.

|||Defences to Murder Charges
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