Murder, Manslaughter & Infanticide: The Main Differences and Penalties

Being charged with causing the death of another person, no matter the circumstances, can be devastating as it can result in the most severe penalty in Canadian criminal law, namely, life imprisonment.

 

Canadian criminal law recognizes three types of culpable (or illegal) homicide, i.e. murder, manslaughter, and neglect to obtain assistance in child-birth (formerly called “infanticide”).

 

In this article, we explore the intricacies of each and talk about the importance of contacting an affordable criminal defence lawyer in Toronto immediately if you are facing a criminal charge of this nature.

 

 

Murder: First Degree vs Second Degree

Murder in Canadian criminal law is defined essentially as intentionally causing the death of another person or intentionally causing bodily harm to another person knowing that death is likely to result.

 

Section 231 of the Criminal Code provides that all murder is either first degree or second degree.  What is the difference? The general rule is that all murders that are planned and deliberate are first-degree murders and all others are second-degree murders. However, there are exceptions.  This is because Section 231 provides that some murders are first-degree murders even though they were not planned and deliberate.  These exceptions are:

 

– when the victim is a police officer, prison guard, etc.

– when death is caused while the accused is committing or attempting to commit a hijacking of an aircraft, sexual assault, kidnapping, forcible confinement, hostage taking, criminal harassment, a terrorist activity, intimidation of a justice system participant or journalist, when the death is caused for the benefit of or at the direction of a criminal organization, or when the death is caused while the accused is committing or attempting to commit any other indictable offense for the benefit of or at the direction of a criminal organization.

 

Adult Sentences for Murder

For adults (i.e. anyone who is aged 18 years or more when the offense was committed), the maximum penalty for murder in Canada was capital punishment until it was formally abolished in 1976 and became, instead, life imprisonment: see section 235(1) of the Criminal Code.

 

If convicted of first-degree murder, the offender will face a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.

 

If convicted of second-degree murder, the offender will face a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.

 

Life imprisonment means that even if the offender is granted parole, he/she remains on parole for the rest of their life and while on parole, they will have to report to their parole officer on a regular basis and abide by all the conditions of their parole.  Failure to do so will result in re-imprisonment.

 

Youth Sentences for Murder

If the offender was between 12-17 years of age when the offence was committed, then Section 42(1)(q) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act provides that the maximum sentence is 10 years for murder and 7 years for second-degree murder.

 

 

Manslaughter & Criminal Negligence Causing Death

Manslaughter is when the accused commits an unlawful act which causes death when he/she does not intend to kill.  For example, an accused can be found guilty of manslaughter where he/she punches another person once, causing the victim to fall, hit his/her head on the ground and subsequently die from a head injury.  Here, the accused is guilty of manslaughter because death was caused by his/her punch (i.e. assault) even though he/she did not intend to kill the victim.

 

Section 232(1) of the Criminal Code also provides that a murder may be reduced to manslaughter if the accused caused the death in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation.  However, not every act will constitute a “provocation”. This is because Section 232(2) states that limits “provocation” to being only conduct of the victim that would constitute an indictable offence punishable by at least five years in jail, that is of such a nature as to be sufficient to deprive an ordinary person of the power of self-control, and only if the accused acted on it on the sudden and before there was time for his/her passion to cool.

 

Criminal negligence causing death is a separate offence closely related to manslaughter.  It occurs when death is caused by someone who does an act that shows a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives of others.  Generally speaking, an act is considered negligent where a reasonable person would have foreseen that the act would endanger life.

 

Criminal negligence can also be committed by the accused’s failure to act where the law imposed a duty on him/her to act.  Criminal negligence does not apply, for example, to a bystander who sees someone in distress and chooses not to help. This is because the law does not impose a duty to help in such circumstances.

 

Adult Sentences for Manslaughter

The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life imprisonment but there is no mandatory minimum sentence except if a firearm was used, in which case the mandatory minimum sentence is four years imprisonment.

 

Youth Sentences for Manslaughter

If the offender was between the ages of 12-17 years of age when the offence was committed, then Section 42(1)(o) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act provides that the maximum sentence is 3 years for manslaughter.

 

 

Neglect in Child-Birth (formerly “Infanticide”)

Section 242 of the Criminal Code provides that a female who, being pregnant and about to give birth, fails to make provision for reasonable assistance in respect of the birth with intent that the child shall not live or to conceal the child’s birth is guilty of an indictable offence if the child is permanently injured or dies immediately before, during or shortly after birth.

 

The penalty for neglect in childbirth is a maximum of five years imprisonment.  There is no minimum penalty.

 

 

Murder, Manslaughter & Infanticide are Serious Criminal Offences

John Erickson is a criminal defence attorney in Toronto with more than 20 years of experience defending people faced with murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and criminal negligence charges.

 

Timely and experience legal intervention is crucial! Contact us without delay.