Planning and Deliberation for First Degree Murder and the Use of Bad Character Evidence in a Criminal Trial. Regina v. Robinson, 2017 ONCA 645

Published On: Aug 27,2017

Planning and deliberation are critical elements of an offence of First Degree Murder. Post offense conduct can be used as a yard stick to either support or negative an inference of planning and deliberation.  This was considered in  Regina v. Robinson, 2017 ONCA 645 . The Ontario Court of Appeal described the facts of that case in the following terms.


  The Facts  

Mr. Robison, the appellant, and Amy Gilbert lived together in an apartment in Woodstock, Ontario.  Both were alcoholics and suffered from significant mental illness.  They loved each other, but their relationship was a turbulent one.  They often argued and the appellant had abused Ms. Gilbert, including an assault that led to his conviction in 2007.

 

Mr. Robinson, the appellant, and Ms. Gilbert drank together almost every day.  On September 27, 2008, the appellant arrived home from work around 5:00 p.m.  Following their usual practice, the appellant and Ms. Gilbert started drinking beer.

 

The deceased, Mr. Clifford Fair, showed up unexpectedly at the apartment around 9:00 p.m.  He was a casual friend of Ms. Gilbert and he knew the appellant.  The appellant believed that Mr. Fair and Ms. Gilbert had a sexual relationship before he and Ms. Gilbert became a couple.  Mr. Fair, who appeared to have been drinking when he arrived, was also an alcoholic.  The three drank beer together for an hour or two.  According to the appellant, he had consumed six beers before Mr. Fair arrived, and had another six with Mr. Fair.  The appellant was also taking anti-depressant medication.  Mr. Fair had five or six beers after he arrived. At first, everyone got along.  However, as the evening wore on, the tone changed.  The appellant became concerned that Mr. Fair was drinking a great deal of the beer that he and Ms. Gilbert had intended would last the evening.  Mr. Fair began making demeaning comments about the appellant’s size and his job.  The appellant also sensed that Ms. Gilbert was becoming angry with Mr. Fair.  He apparently owed her some money.  Ms. Gilbert recalled asking Mr. Fair about a $20 debt, but denied that she was ever angry with him.  Mr. Robinson testified that he eventually decided Mr. Fair should leave.  He worried that Ms. Gilbert would start a fight with Mr. Fair over the debt and that both would become violent.  The appellant suggested to Mr. Fair that he should leave so that the appellant and Ms. Gilbert could be alone together.  He also told Mr. Fair that he wanted to go to bed as he had to go to work the next day.

 

Finally, the appellant told Mr. Fair that he must leave the apartment when he finished the beer he was drinking.  Mr. Fair, who was much bigger than the appellant, dismissed the appellant’s comments, indicating they were having a party.

 

Ms. Gilbert recalled conversations about the jobs of the appellant and Mr. Fair.  On her recollection, everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves, although the appellant was acting a little jealously.  Ms. Gilbert recalled that the appellant got up and left the room.  She thought he was going to the washroom.

 

The appellant testified that he decided he had to do something to get Mr. Fair out of the apartment.  He went to the furnace room looking for something he could use as a weapon to confront Mr. Fair with and force him to leave.  As the appellant put it, he was looking for something to help him “shoo” Mr. Fair from the apartment.  The appellant did not think Mr. Fair would go voluntarily and he knew that he would not do well in a physical confrontation with Mr. Fair.  He had seen Mr. Fair fight on a previous occasion.

 

The appellant found a hollow aluminum pipe, about 16 inches long, in the furnace room.  He wrapped a towel around one end of the pipe and secured the towel with duct tape.

 

As the appellant was looking for the duct tape to put around the towel, he noticed Mr. Fair’s partially opened backpack on the floor.  The appellant looked into the backpack and saw his camera and other property belonging to him.  The appellant quickly concluded that Mr. Fair had stolen the items and might be planning to steal more items from the appellant if the appellant became very drunk and passed out.  After the appellant saw the stolen items, he described himself as “quite a bit agitated … I was pissed off, I felt like victimized”.

 

The appellant testified that he went back into the living room armed with the aluminum pipe.  He approached Mr. Fair from behind and yelled at him.  As Mr. Fair turned around, the appellant struck him on the head with the padded end of the aluminum pipe.  According to Ms. Gilbert, the appellant walked up behind Mr. Fair, smiled at her and swung the pipe with both hands like a baseball bat, striking Mr. Fair on the head.  The appellant insisted he used only about 50 per cent of his force when he swung the pipe.

 

The appellant testified that Mr. Fair started to get up after the first blow landed and made a threatening remark to him.  The appellant swung the pipe a second time, striking Mr. Fair in the head and shoulder area, again with the padded end.  Ms. Gilbert testified that Mr. Fair started to get up after the first blow, but was immediately felled by the second.  She did not hear Mr. Fair say anything.

 

According to the appellant, Mr. Fair continued to move toward him after the second blow.  The appellant pushed Mr. Fair, who fell backward into the wall, possibly striking his head.  He then fell face first onto the floor.  Mr. Fair was unconscious and bleeding profusely from his nose and mouth.  He died within moments.


Post-Offence Conduct 

The post-offense conduct of Mr. Robsinon was considered as a relevant factor in this case.  He became very upset; checked the pulse of the deceased; stated that he had not meant to hurt him; and expressed his disbelief he could be dead. His partner, Ms. Gilbert, assisted Mr. Robinson to burying Mr. Fair’s body in his backyard. Mr. Robinson later dug up and re-buried the body on two occasions, the second time after dismembering it. The Crown expert witnesses in this case were unable to identify the medical cause of death.  They testified that there were no fatal brain injuries or skull fractures. The Crown poisted the theory there was planning and deliberation that occurred during the time the accused took to retrieve and assemble his weapon. This was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

 

The Court held that a reasonable jury could conclude the accused intended to make a pre-emptive, disabling attack, and could infer the accused intended to cause bodily harm he knew was likely to result in death and was reckless as to whether death ensued. This was sufficient to convict the accused of second degree murder.  However, this was insufficient to meet the legal burden for First Degree Murder. The Court of Appeal held that a reasonable jury could not find that Mr. Robinson had planned and deliberated upon the murder for Mr. Fair. This is because the accused’s panicked conduct immediately after striking the deceased, attested to by both the accused and his partner.  His conduct belied any inference that he had planned an attack on Mr. Fair knowing that he would probably kill Mr. Fair and that he deliberated upon his plan before executing the attack. What is more, there was no other evidence capable of supporting a finding of planning and deliberation.  The medical evidence and the timeframe of the retrieval of the weapon did not support planning and deliberation. The court entered an acquittal on first degree murder.

 

With respect to the issue of second degree murder, the Court of Appeal held that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury on the issue of Mr. Robinson’s  post-offence conduct.   The Trial Judge made the following comments in his/her isntructions:

Other evidence of post-offence conduct is the burial, the dismemberment.  You may use that evidence, together with the other evidence of the letters, to help you decide if Mr. Robinson is guilty of culpable homicide, and I’ll tell you what that is shortly…  [Emphasis added.]

  The trial judge went on to explain the inferences necessary before after-the-fact conduct could be used as evidence of guilt:

If you conclude that he actually did say what he has alleged to have said, or did do what he is alleged to have done after the offence was committed, you go on to consider the next question, whether this was because Mr. Robinson was conscious, was culpable of having committed the offence of culpable homicide, or for some other reason.  Alright, so two steps, did he actually do it, did he say it and then the second step is did he do it or say it because it’s evidence of culpability?

  The trial judge’s only reference to the definition of “culpable homicide” appears in her instructions on manslaughter.  She told the jury:

“Manslaughter is defined as culpable homicide that’s not murder.  In other words, when someone kills another person unintentionally, without the intent.  To determine John Robinson’s state of mind, what he meant to do, you should consider all of the evidence, what he did or did not do, how he did or did not do it, what he said or did not say.  You look at Mr. Robinson’s words and conduct before, at the time, and after the unlawful act that caused Mr. Fair’s death.  All of these things, and the circumstances in which they happened, may shed light on Mr. Robinson’s state of mind.  They may help you decide what he meant or didn’t mean to do.  [Emphasis added.]”

 

In this case, the conduct was only relevant to the issue of whether the accused unlawfully killed the deceased.  This means that it could not assist the jury in deciding whether the accused had the mens rea for manslaughter or murder.


While there are subtle differences in the law between the first and second degree murder are not complex, proper legal advice ought to be sought at the onset of these charges to permit an professional review the details and the facts of each case to determine how they square with the prevailing law at the time.  The procedural and legal issues involved with the assessment of evidence, such as bad character and post-offensive conduct, are complete and often fluctuates in subtle ways as the law in this area evolves. It is important to seek legal advice on what the Crown is permitted to enter into evidence and what must be opposed.


Call J.S. Patel, Criminal Lawyer in Calgary or Toronto at 403-585-1960 or 1-888-695-2211 or via email at jpatel@defence-law.com

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