Co-Principal Liability in the context of Second Degree Murder by J.S. Patel, Criminal Defence Lawyer (403-585-1960)

Published On: Jul 21,2021

Co-principal liability was recently explained by the Court of Appeal in Regina v. Abdulle, 2020 ONCA 106 (CanLII). In circumstances involving co-principals, as is the case here, the liability of parties to an offence is addressed by s. 21 of the Code. In Regina v. Spackman, 2012 ONCA 905, 295 C.C.C. (3d) 177, Justice Watt  explained that co-principals are liable where they “together form an intention to commit an offence, are present at its commission, and contribute to it, although each does not personally commit all the essential elements of the offence”: at para. 181.  This was also explained in Regina v. Pickton2010 SCC 32, [2010] 2 S.C.R. 198, at para. 63. In order to be liable as principals, therefore, the parties must have had the requisite intention.  Within the scope of the requisite mens rea required for second-degree murder is outlined in s. 229 of the Criminal Code, which states that culpable homicide is murder where the person who causes the death of a human being either means to cause their death, or means to cause them bodily harm that they know is likely to cause their death and is reckless whether or not death ensues.

In Regina v. Abdulle, 2020 ONCA 106, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the appellants’ convictions for second-degree murder. The convictions arose from an altercation that occurred in the parking lot of the apartment building where the deceased lived. The deceased was stabbed multiple times, beaten, kicked, and stomped on by a group of young people. He was without vital signs when paramedics arrived, and he was pronounced dead at the hospital. The three appellants – Abdulle, Jama and Egal – and a fourth accused, Bryan, were charged with second-degree murder. The Crown alleged that the accused were co-principals in an attack on the deceased, that one or more of them inflicted the fatal stab wounds, and that all had the necessary intent for murder under s.229(a) of the Criminal Code. The jury convicted the appellants and acquitted Bryan. The appellants were sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole eligibility for 12 years.  The Court of Appeal made the following findings that: (a)t he trial judge properly instructed the jury on the liability of co-principals and on the mens rea for murder; (b) the trial judge did not err by improperly restricting Abdulle’s evidence; (c)The trial judge did not err by failing to give the jury an Oliver instruction [Regina v. Oliver, [2005] CanLII 3582, [2005] O.J. No. 596 (C.A.), at paras. 50-60] regarding Bryan’s evidence, warning that they should consider his testimony with particular care and caution; (d) the trial judge made no error in allowing counsel for Bryan to cross-examine a witness (Jama’s mother) on her police statement that Egal had a knife, and in failing to grant a mistrial; (e) the trial judge did not err by improperly instructing the jury concerning a witness’s prior inconsistent statement; and (f) the verdict was not unreasonable in relation to Jama.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, contact Mr. J.S. Patel, Barrister at 403-585-1960 for a consultation.