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PROCEDURE - Crown’s duties - Trial judge’s duties - Where accused unrepresented

Thursday, June 10, 2021 @ 5:47 AM  

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Appeal by the accused, Ibrahim, from a conviction for first-degree murder. In 2009, the victim was shot 10 times while standing outside of a grocery store. The accused and the victim exchanged angry words hours before the shooting over a trivial matter. The Crown alleged that the accused used the assistance of others to obtain a gun, find the victim, shoot him and dispose of the weapon. The Crown relied upon the testimony of three witnesses who were with the accused at various times on the night of the murder. All three witnesses had credibility issues. Two of the witnesses were charged separately with offences associated with the killing. The accused testified that he was not in the vicinity of the shooting and claimed that his phone records supported his account. The Crown evidence suggested that the accused had given his phone to someone else during the relevant timeframe. Four weeks into trial, the accused discharged counsel due to dissatisfaction with the cross-examination of a Crown witness. The trial judge refused a mistrial or a long adjournment to retain new counsel. The trial judge provided instructions on proceeding without counsel, granted an eight-day adjournment for preparation and appointed former defence counsel as amicus. The trial ended in a conviction for first-degree murder. The accused appealed.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The trial judge did not err in characterizing the accused’s adjournment request as an attempt to derail the trial following the Crown’s case. The trial judge properly exercised her discretion in handling the accused’s decision to discharge his lawyer. She advised the accused of the consequences. Having made an informed decision to discharge counsel, the accused was not automatically entitled to a mistrial or lengthy adjournment. The trial judge appointed his former lawyer as amicus curiae and took appropriate steps to ensure that the accused received a fair trial by accommodating numerous requests for more time and assistance. The Crown’s cross-examination of the accused, combined with some ill-advised comments and factual inaccuracies in the closing address, was problematic. However, the trial judge’s interventions, along with her mid-trial and final instructions to the jury, neutralized any prejudice.

R. v. Ibrahim, [2021] O.J. No. 2039, Ontario Court of Appeal, J.C. MacPherson, G.T. Trotter and A.L. Harvison Young JJ.A., April 16, 2021. Digest No. TLD-June72021012