Legal Studies 3080

Check Your Knowledge

The following questions will help you determine your understanding of the previous section. Work through the questions, compare your answers with the suggested answers.

Teacher's Note
Contact your teacher if you have any questions about the course or the material.


Darlene is accused of committing a criminal offence, but she claims to have an alibi. She was at home by herself the entire evening on which the offence was committed, 25 kilometers away from the crime scene. Would this be accepted by the court as an alibi? Explain why or why not.

Suggested Answer: No, this would not be accepted as an alibi because as far as we know, there's no way to corroborate Darlene's statement. The court would have to have witnesses to testify that they had seen Darlene where she claimed to be at the time the crime was committed. The court would also have to take into account the credibility of those witnesses and their relationship with Darlene. The precise timelines of the alibi would have to be carefully checked as well.

On the construction site where he is working, Nigel spots Warren, whom he suspects is the person who stole his watch. Walking up to Warren, Nigel repeatedly pushes him on the chest while demanding his watch back. Suddenly, Warren stoops down, grabs a length of two-by-four, and attacks Nigel as if he wants to kill him. Nigel, not knowing what else to do, and with no room to run, grabs a hammer from his tool belt, ducks a vicious blow from the two-by-four, and strikes Warren as hard as he can with the hammer. Warren sustains permanent brain damage. Can Warren use self-defence as a defence?

Suggested Answer: Yes, Nigel likely can successfully use self-defence as a defence at his trial. Section 34 of the Criminal Code says that even if you assault another person, as long as you don't intend to kill or seriously harm that person, you can justify the use of force if you reasonably fear death or serious harm at the hands of the other person. So even though Nigel began the incident, Warren's violent counterattack made it reasonable for Nigel to do what he did, given that there was nowhere to run.

In 1981, a case occurred in which a man was accused of assaulting his wife. During testimony, the accused told the court that the incident had occurred while the couples were driving home after a party. The wife, who was intoxicated and in the passenger seat, first tried to get out of the car while it was moving and then tried to grab the steering wheel. Fearing an accident, the accused used force to subdue his wife. Since the husband had, in fact, assaulted his wife, he couldn't plead not guilty to the charge.

  1. Might either of the defences of duress or necessity apply in this case? If so, which one is applicable?
  2. Would the defence likely be successful? Explain.

Suggested Answer: The defence that would apply here is necessity. Duress isn't applicable because no one was threatening or using violence to make the husband do what he did. In actual fact, this defence would be successful in this case. The husband had to act quickly to prevent a car accident. He was in an "urgent situation of clear and imminent peril" that made compliance with the law impossible.

A mental disorder is a "disease of the mind." Canadian courts have accepted such diseases and conditions as epilepsy, alcoholism, arteriosclerosis, and schizophrenia as "diseases of the mind".

  1. What may happen to an accused who's judged unfit to stand trial?
  2. What happens to an accused who in the court's opinion isn't criminally responsible for the offence he or she has committed on account of a mental disorder?
  3. Do you think the government should have the right to keep people locked up in the institutions for many years - perhaps all their lives - if they are found to be not criminally responsible for their actions? Explain your reasons.

Suggested Answer: If an accused is judged to be unfit to stand trial, the court can require him or her to undergo treatment in order to remedy this situation. An inquiry will be held every other year while this is going on to monitor the situation. When a defendant is judged not to be criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder, the court or Review Board holds a hearing to decide what to do, weighing the rights of the public to protection against the rights of the individual involved who, after all, hasn't been responsible for doing anything wrong. If it is decided an accused poses no threat to the public, he or she will likely be released. Otherwise, the accused will probably be kept in a hospital until it is judged safe to release him or her into society. There is no one answer for the third question. The rights of the public to protection must be weighed against the rights of the individual. If an accused has a serious mental disorder that makes it likely that he or she will harm others, few would argue that this person should be detained until the condition is remedied. Since the accused isn't being punished, however, care must be taken to see that he or she is released as soon as this step seems justified.