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EVIDENCE - Admissibility - Confessions and statements by the accused - Voluntariness

Friday, March 20, 2020 @ 9:43 AM  

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Appeal by the accused from conviction of first degree murder. The victim was the appellant’s former spouse. He admitted shooting her but claimed he did not have the requisite intent for first degree murder. The appellant consumed alcohol and prescription drugs prior to the shooting. Before his arrest and surrender, the appellant told his sisters and police that he shot his wife. The appellant argued the trial judge erred in his determination that the appellant was not detained and that these utterances were voluntary. He also argued the trial judge erred in explaining to the jury how to assess exculpatory evidence on the issue of intent and by failing to provide the jury an instruction on drawing inferences from circumstantial evidence.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. At the time the statements were made to his sisters, the sisters could not have been persons in authority by having become agents of the state. There was no evidence that at the time of these statements there was any agreement between either of the sisters and the police that they would formally assist the police in the detention and arrest of the appellant, nor was there anything to indicate that either of the sisters were at the time of the appellant’s statements to them under the direction or instructions of the police. The appellant’s statement to police admitting to the killing was spontaneous. His admission that he had the gun with him in the car was in response to a general question about whether he had weapons, asked to assess officer and public safety. He was not detained at the time he made statements to his sisters as by that time there had been no action by the police that could reasonably have been perceived by the appellant as detention. There were no verbal statements made by the officer that could lead the appellant to believe he had a legal obligation to comply with any police demands, nor by reason of state conduct could a reasonable person, viewed objectively, conclude they had no choice but to comply. The trial judge thoroughly reviewed all the exculpatory evidence of intent with the jury and explained how it was relevant to the issue of intent. The form of WD instruction given by the trial judge satisfied the essential elements. The trial judge instructed the jury about the difference between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence and instructed the jury on numerous occasions that it was to consider all the evidence, holistically, including both direct and circumstantial evidence in order to determine whether the Crown proved the appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial judge’s entire jury charge, taken in context, was proper and adequate to alert the jury to the dangers of filling in any blanks or jumping to conclusions to support any inferences that the Crown might have invited it to draw.

R. v. Randall, [2020] A.J. No. 153, Alberta Court of Appeal, P.A. Rowbotham, E.A. Hughes and K.P. Feehan JJ.A., February 5, 2020. Digest No. TLD-March162020009